Studying the brains of extinct organisms sheds light on their past behavior. However, soft tissues, such as the brain, usually do not persist for a long time. Researchers are reconstructing the brain of dinosaurs by analyzing the cranial cavities using computed tomography. This requires well-preserved meninges. Paleontologist Dr. Rodrigo Müller of the Federal University of Santa Maria has discovered an exceptionally well-preserved skeleton in fossils in southern Brazil. The skeleton, approximately 233 million years old, belongs to the small carnivorous dinosaur Buriolestes schultzi. The entire skull of this Triassic dinosaur has been preserved. As a result, Brazilian researchers reconstructed the first brain in its entirety of one of the oldest dinosaurs in the world. The study is published in the Journal of Anatomy.
Buriolestes schultzi’s brain is relatively small and weighs about 1.5 grams. It’s a little lighter than a pea. The brain shape of this dinosaur was primitive and resembled the general morphology of a crocodile’s brain. In addition, the presence of well-developed structures in the cerebellum indicates the ability to track moving prey.
Despite the predatory behavior of this dinosaur when searching for prey, it belongs to the genus of giant, long-necked herbivorous sauropods, the largest land animals that have ever lived. Buriolestes schultzi is considered the earliest member of this line. Brain reconstruction allows researchers to analyze the evolution of the brains of ancient species.
One of the most notable trends is the increase in the number of olfactory bulbs. These structures responsible for smell are relatively small in Buriolestes schultzi, becoming very large over time in later sauropods and closely related forms. High olfactory abilities play an important role in finding food, helping animals to better distinguish between digestible and non-digestible plants. Also, the enhancement of the olfactory sense of sauropods is based on an evolutionary need. Namely, using the sense of smell to detect chemical signals from predators.
The scientists also calculated the cognitive ability, or intelligence, of Buriolestes schultzi based on brain volume and body weight. The values obtained are higher than those of giant sauropods such as Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus, which indicates a decrease in encephalization in this line. The cognitive ability of Buriolestes schultzi is lower than that of theropod dinosaurs, a lineage that includes tyrannosaurs, velociraptors, and birds.