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Agonized death throes probable cause of open-mouthed, head-back pose of many dino fossils

is, which is the temporary stiffening of muscles after death; and the drying of muscles, tendons and ligaments - that some paleontologists credit with creating the opisthotonic posture. She obtained badly injured birds -owls, falcons and red-tailed hawks - that had been euthanized at a raptor recovery center and watched them for 8-10 hours, checking periodically to see if they moved during the process.

"In horses and smaller animals, rigor mortis sets in within a couple of hours, so I just looked to see if they were moving or not," Faux said. "And they weren't moving. They were staying in whatever position I'd left them in. I thought, 'If birds aren't doing it, and I'd never observed a horse doing it, then why would dinosaurs be doing it"'"

The idea that drying causes muscles or tendons to contract asymmetrically also didn't make sense, she said, based on her veterinary experience and an experiment she conducted with two euthanized red-tailed hawks, which she dried for two months set them in Styrofoam peanuts to dr. Most joints have counterbalancing muscles that dry the same way, she said, so there was no reason to expect that the muscles would turn a joint during drying. She found no post-mortem movement. She also pinned beef tendons as they dried, and though they shrank a bit, they did not shrink enough even to dislodge the pins. Given these observations, it is hard to imagine how shrinking tendons or muscles could drag a heavy creature into a different position, the researchers noted.

Padian pointed out, too, that all opisthotonic dinosaurs are very well preserved, meaning they evidently did not sit out in the open for long, or scavengers would have quickly scattered the bones. So, he wondered, how could they have been exposed long enough to dry out"

The only explanation that makes sense, they concluded, is central nervous system damage. The cerebellum is responsible for fine muscle movement, controlling, for example, the b
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
8-Jun-2007


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