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Did Dinosaurs Fight?

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Published on Sep 10, 2012

Most vertebrates engage in combat either over territory, mates, or food. So it is not surprising that dinosaurs did, too, especially since we can observe combat in the closest living relatives of extinct dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds. But direct evidence of fighting in extinct dinosaurs is rare.

The most spectacular example of predator/prey combat in extinct dinosaurs was discovered in Mongolia. A carnivorous theropod, Velociraptor, is entwined in a 72-million-year-old death struggle with a primitive, herbivorous, horned dinosaur, Protoceratops. The right arm of the Velociraptor is caught in the mouth of the Protoceratops, and the hand of Velociraptor grasps the face of its foe. The large sickle-shaped claw on the hind foot of Velociraptor is imbedded in the neck of the Protoceratops, right where the carotid artery would be. The exact circumstances surrounding the scene are unknown, but the position of the bones document that the animals were interacting while they were alive.

Two other specimens document combat between individuals of the same species. One is a 65-million-year-old skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in South Dakota. This bad boy was really beat up. One eye socket in the skull is nearly closed by abnormal healing of the surrounding bone. On another part of the skull, the broken tip of a tooth from another tyrannosaur in embedded. Around this tooth are the characteristic marks of bone growth that occurs during healing, indicating that the animal survived the attack. Another skull of Velociraptor from Mongolia exhibits two rows of parallel punctures on the frontal bone that appear to be tooth marks. The pattern of tooth marks corresponds identically with the spacing of teeth in the upper jaw of Velociraptor. No healing of bone is evident, suggesting that the rival dealt a fatal blow to the victim's brain.

This video is part of a series, "Dinosaurs Explained," produced by the American Museum of Natural History. In the series, Museum paleontologists answer the most frequently asked questions about dinosaurs.

To watch the videos, go to www.amnh.org/explore/amnh-tv. Click on the "Dinosaurs Explained" Tab on the left side of the page. In the playlist, start with the first question and play each video consecutively for a mini-course in dinosaur fossils.

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