Dinosaurs Inside and Out

Growing Bones

What can paleontologists tell about the lifestyle of a small herbivore from its fossil bones?

One good example of small herbivores is the Hypsilophodon, an ornithischian with a skeleton very different from its larger sauropod cousins. The small dinosaur’s entire structure seemed “shrunk down,” giving it strength with minimum weight. Its bones were hollow and thin-walled for lightness, and the thigh bone was very short for rapid stride movements. The small dinosaur’s feet were long and thin, with long, upper-foot bones (metatarsals), and it had short, sharp claws for gripping the ground. The long tail bone was stiffened by bony rods, and probably swung from side to side, helping it to quickly change directions. All of these structures paint a picture of a small, two-legged herbivore using its bony features to swiftly run and maneuver as a defense against predators.


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