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New Studies Shed Light On Facial Features Of Popular Dinosaurs

SNOWBIRD, Utah -- Studies by an Ohio University paleontologist suggest that contrary to popular belief, Tyrannosaurus rex probably didn't have lips and Triceratops most likely didn't have cheeks. The assertion could have implications on scientists who study these extinct animals and the toy manufacturers, movie set designers and artists whose recreations of dinosaurs now seem to be inaccurate.

"I almost expect a backlash as a result of our findings. There is a sense that we're changing the way a lot of dinosaurs look," says Lawrence Witmer, an assistant professor of anatomy at Ohio University and principal investigator on a National Science Foundation project to study the soft tissues of dinosaurs.

Witmer presented his research at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology held Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 in Snowbird, Utah.

Witmer's project, which has involved high-tech scanning of dinosaur fossils and dissection of their modern-day relatives, has yielded more than just a picture of the internal construction of these animals. The work has led to what Witmer believes may be a better, more accurate way to rebuild dinosaurs using basic comparative anatomy.

"When you work on extinct animals, there is a pressure and a sincere desire to know what these animals looked like," Witmer says. "We draw these pictures and they look right to us because they remind us of animals we see today. But these pictures may be wrong."

For example, Witmer says, Triceratops and Leptoceratops, both ornithischians, have long been thought to have fleshy cheeks, which scientists believed were involved in how these plant-eaters ate. The idea that they had cheeks was based on scientists' comparison of these dinosaurs to modern-day mammals, such as sheep.

The dinosaurs probably were about the same size as sheep -- Leptoceratops is thought to have been about 6 to 8 feet in length, weighing between 100 and 150 p
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Contact: Kelli Whitlock
whitlock@ohio.edu
(740) 593-0383
Ohio University
1-Oct-1998


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