Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Add Venom to Arsenal of Dinosaurs on the Hunt

Some dinosaurs, it is identified, were ferocious creatures — using claws, jaws, teeth, horns or even tails to subdue their prey.

But did some make use of poison, too?

A group of paleontologists has found evidence to imply that at least one dinosaur, the birdlike raptor Sinornithosaurus, was venomous. It perhaps used its poison to stun small birds or other prey, the researchers write in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sinornithosaurus, which was about 3 feet long and lived 125 million years ago, was described in 1999 based on fossils discovered at the Liaoning Quarry in northeastern China. The original description noted some unusual features, with grooves in the teeth and a duct running along the base of the teeth.

David A. Burnham of the University of Kansas and Enpu Gong of Northeastern University in Liaoning and colleagues have now interpreted those features, and a cavity in the skull not previously described, as evidence of a venom delivery system similar to that found in some living lizards.

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