Unearthing the Underground Dinosaur: Thescelosaurus Neglectus’ Sensory Superpowers

New research reveals the overlooked dinosaur’s unique sensory abilities, suggesting a subterranean lifestyle during the Late Cretaceous era.

A dinosaur once dismissed as unremarkable is now making headlines, thanks to groundbreaking research that uncovers its extraordinary sensory abilities. Thescelosaurus neglectus, a dinosaur that roamed the earth during the Late Cretaceous era, may have led a subterranean lifestyle, thriving beneath the feet of the mighty T. rex and Triceratops. This revelation marks the first time that specific sensory development has been linked to subterranean behaviors in any dinosaur.

A Boring Dinosaur Reveals Its Secrets

Thescelosaurus neglectus, colloquially known as Willo, has long been considered a dull dinosaur. However, recent research, led by Lindsay Zanno from North Carolina State University (NC State) and David Button from the University of Bristol, challenges this perception. Using CT scanning, the researchers reconstructed the soft tissue of Willo’s well-preserved skull, revealing a unique combination of sensory strengths and weaknesses.

A Keen Sense of Smell and Balance

Despite possessing a relatively small brain, Willo boasted an exceptional sense of smell and balance. The dinosaur’s olfactory bulbs, responsible for processing smell, were larger than those of any other known dinosaur, comparable to those of modern alligators. This powerful sense of smell may have been used to locate buried plant foods like roots and tubers. Additionally, Willo had an unusually developed sense of balance, a trait commonly found in burrowing animals.

The Hearing Deficiency

Contrasting with its keen senses of smell and balance, Thescelosaurus neglectus had a significantly underdeveloped sense of hearing. The dinosaur was particularly insensitive to high-frequency sounds, able to detect only 15% of the frequencies perceivable by humans. However, its hearing range overlapped with that of the T. rex, possibly aiding in predator detection.

Evidence of a Subterranean Lifestyle

The unique combination of sensory abilities, coupled with powerful arms and legs, suggests that Thescelosaurus neglectus may have led a subterranean lifestyle. This theory is further supported by the fact that the dinosaur’s ancestors were known to live underground. While not definitively proven, the evidence strongly suggests that Thescelosaurus neglectus may have engaged in similar behaviors.

The Controversy Surrounding Willo

Willo, the Thescelosaurus neglectus specimen at the heart of this study, has been the subject of controversy over the years. In 2000, scientists believed they had discovered evidence of heart tissue within Willo’s ribcage, potentially indicating bird-like physiology. However, a subsequent study in 2011 found that the preserved tissue could have originated from various sources, including plant matter, casting doubt on the initial findings.

Conclusion: The new research on Thescelosaurus neglectus opens the door to a previously unexplored aspect of dinosaur life — the possibility of subterranean existence. Despite being overlooked in the past, this dinosaur’s unique sensory abilities have revealed it to be anything but boring. As Zanno notes, the idea of dinosaurs living beneath the feet of T. rex and Triceratops is indeed fascinating and promises a wealth of exciting discoveries in the future. The research, published in Scientific Reports, underscores the importance of continued exploration into the sensory abilities of dinosaurs, a field still ripe with untapped potential.