John Woodward. ZOOM in on the world s most incredible dinosaurs, in e-book format Dinosaur fossils are amazing things to see and wonder at, but they only reveal a tiny fragment of the story.
Why Did Dinosaurs Have Small Eyes?
Dinosaurs Eye to Eye Premier's reading challenge Yr 5 - 6. They took the same measurements in living species.
Day-active, or diurnal, animals have a small opening in the middle of the ring. In nocturnal animals, the opening is much larger. Cathemeral animals -- active both day and night -- tend to be in between.
Dinosaurs Eye to Eye by John Woodward
The size of these features is affected by a species' environment ecology as well as by ancestry phylogeny. For example, two closely related animals might have a similar eye shape even though one is active by day and the other by night: The shape of the eye is constrained by ancestry.
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Schmitz and Motani wrote a computer program to separate the "ecological signal" from the "phylogenetic signal. By looking at living species, the UC Davis team was able to confirm that eye measurements are quite accurate in predicting whether animals are active by day, by night or around the clock.
First dinosaurs arose in an evolutionary eye-blink
They then applied the technique to fossils from plant-eating and carnivorous dinosaurs, flying reptiles called pterosaurs, and ancestral birds. The measurements revealed that the big plant-eating dinosaurs were active day and night, probably because they had to eat most of the time, except for the hottest hours of the day when they needed to avoid overheating.
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Modern megaherbivores like elephants show the same activity pattern, Motani said. Velociraptors and other small carnivores were night hunters, Schmitz and Motani showed. The scientists looked at the eye structures of 33 species of dinosaurs that lived from million to 65 million years ago.
Nine of the species, all small carnivores, had eyes that were characteristic of living nocturnal animals. All of the herbivores, on the other hand, were diurnal. The lead author, Lars Schmitz, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis, said that the pattern persisted today in mammals.