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Theropod dinosaurs had primate-like numbers of telencephalic neurons

By Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Posted 21 Jun 2022
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.06.20.496834

Understanding the neuronal composition of the brains of dinosaurs and other fossil amniotes would offer fundamental insight into their behavioral and cognitive capabilities, but brain tissue is not fossilized. However, when the bony brain case is preserved, the volume and therefore mass of the brain can be estimated with computer tomography; and if the scaling relationship between brain mass and numbers of neurons for the clade is known, that relationship can be applied to estimate the neuronal composition of the brain. Using a recently published database of numbers of neurons in the telencephalon of extant bird and non-avian reptiles, here I show that the neuronal scaling rules that apply to these animals can be used to infer the numbers of neurons that composed the telencephalon of dinosaur, pterosaur and other fossil reptile species, after using the relationship between brain and body mass to determine whether bird-like (endothermic) or non-avian reptile-like (ectothermic) rules apply to each fossil species. This procedure indicates that theropods such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Allosaurus had monkey-like numbers of telencephalic neurons, which would make these animals not only giant but also long-lived and endowed with flexible cognition, and thus even more magnificent predators than previously thought.

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