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Bellies of herbivores are larger, but not in the case of dinosaurs

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Posted November 9, 2016

Eliminating meat from your diet should make you slimmer, since nowadays meat is being prepared with an extensive amount of additives. However, this is not a universal truth, when it comes to animals. Scientists from the University of Zurich for the first time showed that bellies of herbivorous mammals are bigger than these of their carnivorous counterparts.

Scientists studied 120 tetrapods from prehistoric times up to the present day. Image credit: media.uzh.ch.

Scientists studied 120 tetrapods from prehistoric times up to the present day. Image credit: media.uzh.ch.

Interestingly, the same principle does not apply to dinosaurs. This is very interesting, because all these animals are connected in the course of evolution. Species had to adapt to their environment, which offered them one or another dominant way of feeding. Of course, scientists and even common people have noticed that herbivores tend to be bigger, especially in their belly region, but there was no scientific explanation why. Scientists hypothesized that it is because plants are much more difficult to digest, meaning that they need larger guts and thus more voluminous bellies.

Scientists took a better look at 120 tetrapods from entire timeline. Some of these species lived in prehistoric times and are long gone, while others are fairly modern and are still walking the Earth today. They used photogrammetry and computer imaging techniques to produce 3D database for skeletons of dinosaurs, reptiles, birds, mammals and fossil synapsids (mammal-like reptiles). Using all this data they analysed the size of the bellies of all these species – it is possible to determine is size by analysing structure of spinal column, the ribcage and the pelvis. Unsurprisingly, scientists discovered that bellies of herbivorous mammals on average are twice as big as carnivores of a similar body size.

However, the surprising fact of the matter is that this patter is not evident in dinosaurs. On one hand it may mean that reconstruction of dinosaur skeletons is not yet sufficiently accurate. Marcus Clauss, one of the authors of the study, said: “the discovery reveals that there’s a fundamental difference in morphological principles between mammals and other tetrapods”. Such factors as different respiratory systems may also account for such inconsistencies.

This study supports the idea that herbivores need larger guts to digest plants. However, more research is needed to see why herbivorous dinosaurs do not have larger bellies that their carnivorous counterparts.

Source: UZH

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