The weird way a dinosaur’s body temperature works

The weird way a dinosaur’s body temperature works

A recent study found that dinosaurs can actually elevate their body temperature -- so exactly how do they function?

As we reported recently, a new study has come to the surprising conclusion that rather than being purely cold blooded creatures, dinosaurs can internally elevate their body temperature higher than that of the surrounding environment. But what exactly is the physiology of these fantastical beasts?

While dinosaurs are known as ectotherms — cold blooded animals that get their heat from the surrounding atmosphere — the reality is that they eventually evolved into birds, which are endothrems, or warm-blooded animals. So it’s not terribly surprising that they are actually in the middle of a spectrum between cold blooded and warm blooded, and that’s exactly what scientists recently found.

The physiology of a dinosaur is actually quite unique.

Thermoregulation has long been a hotly debated topic among scientists who study the physiology of dinosaurs. Early paleontologists thought they were sluggish and slow-moving cold blooded lizards, but as more skeletons were discovered in the western United States in the latter half of the 19th century, scientists came to realize that dinosaurs were actually quite agile.

In the meantime, Darwinian evolution was entering the mainstream, and scientists proposed that dinosaurs were closely related to birds. However, most still recognized them as typical reptiles for the first half of the 20th century.

It wasn’t until the 1960s when the so-called “Dinosaur Renaissance” happened, as the popular culture began to look at dinosaurs in the way they are known today: oftentimes swift, agile, and fiercely aggressive.

All of this wouldn’t be possible if dinosaurs were strictly cold blooded, which is what makes thermoregulation such an important topic.

And scientists found evidence that dinosaurs were capable of regulating their body temperatures somewhat, with a couple of species sporting “sails” on their spines, which may have allowed them to take in more heat from the sun, and also eject heat by using the sails as radiators in the shade.

But not much has been known about how dinosaurs regulate their body temperature, which is what makes this newest study so important and potentially groundbreaking.

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