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Dinosaur Blood: Warm or Cold or Both?

There’s been an interesting development in the whole cold-blooded/warm-blooded dinsosaur debate. A brand new method has been developed to reveal the most accurate body temperature of dinosaurs to date.

The results show that some dinosaurs were actually as warm-blooded as many modern mammals but they were also cooler than birds.

Researchers, led by Robert Eagle of the California Institute of Technology, used the teeth of sauropods like Brachiosaurus and Camarasaurus to determine thay they were in fact warmer than crocodiles and alligators both extant and extinct. 

So this resolves the debate right? Doesn’t this mean that Dinos were warmblooded then?

Well no. As we so often find in science, obvious conclusions aren’t necessarily correct and things often get more complicated when you look at the details.

So A little background:

It’s seems funny now to look at old depictions of dinos. You would typically see these slow, plodding dumb animals. Exactly what you might expect from a big cold-blooded animal like a gargantuan lizard.

Over the years though this conception has changed as we learned more about the actual lifestyles of dinosaurs. This new data caused the scientific consensus to drift to the conception of warm-blooded dinosaurs. This was dramatically exemplified by the swift smart velociraptors seen in the movie Jurrasic park.The evidence to definitively demonstrate this though was often contradictory and confusing.

If you think about it, how the hell do you accurately determine the internal temperature of extinct fossilized animals anyway? Many scientists thought it was impossible.

Well what they’ve done now has been described as essentially putting a thermometer under an extinct animals tongue.

They did this by examining the amounts of different types of carbon-13 and oxygen-18 in the enamel of dino teeth.The lower the temperature the more these elements bond.Can you guess what this is called? ……The clumped-isotope technique.

It turns out that body temperature has a direct effect on the amounts of these elements. Look closely at the elements and you can figure out what the body temperature of the dinosaur was. This is a great technique because thermodynamics is thermodynamics. It’s the same today as it was millions of years ago.

Ok, so back to the resolution of the debate.

It may seem obvious that since they were so warm thaey must have been warmblooded. But it’s more complicated than that.

Lead researcher Robert A. Eagle said recently:

“Our analysis really allows us rule out that they could have been cold, like crocodiles, for example,” But, he added, “this doesn’t necessarily mean these large dinosaurs had high metabolism like mammals and birds . . .”

That’s because the two dinos studied were fraggin huge; 40 tons and 15 tons. This makes them gingantotherms meaning that their huge body mass helped them retain lots of heat.

Maybe they had some weird hybrid metabolism that’s kind of in-between cold and warm bloodedness. Could you be a gigantotherm and cold blooded? I don’t know.

What they need to do next is examine the teeth of the smaller dinosaurs and see what their temperatures were.

Either way I think this debate will last a while.

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