• Researchers used computed tomography to reconstruct the brain
  • They used a skull fossil with a well preserved neurocranium for the study 
  • Neurocranium serves as a protective bone cover for the brain

The brain of Buriolestes schultzi, a carnivorous dinosaur from the Triassic period, resembled that of crocodiles but was lighter than a pea, scientists said after they successfully reconstructed its brain.

Buriolestes schultzi walked the Earth more than 230 million years ago and its contemporaries were found in Brazil and Argentina.

A team of researchers from the Federal University of Santa Maria and the University of Sao Paulo reconstructed the first complete brain of one of the world's oldest dinosaurs using computed tomography to gain insights into their behavioral habits. They found that the dinosaur brain had well-developed structures in its cerebellum, indicating that the Buriolestes schultzi had good eyesight which was used to track down its prey.

The study was published in the Journal of Anatomy.

Despite its carnivorous nature and small brain size, Buriolestes schultzi belonged to the lineage of the long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs, known as sauropods, the researchers said. Sauropods, which included the diplodocus and brachiosaurus, were the largest dinosaurs to have walked on Earth.

Scientists were unable to perform a complete dinosaur brain reconstruction in the past because of one major issue – all the skull fossils found so far lacked a portion of the bone called the neurocranium.

Neurocranium serves as braincases for dinosaurs. It wraps the brain, acting as a protective bone cover for the soft tissue. This part of the skull bone was missing in almost all the fossils unearthed in Brazil and Argentina, up until 2015.

In 2015, Rodrigo Temp Müller, a paleontologist from the Center for Support of Paleontological Research (Cappa) at UFSM, found a nearly complete fossilized skeleton of Buriolestes schultzi in the municipality of São João do Polêsine. The discovery formed the basis of the new study.

Scientists will use the reconstructed brain to further study the anatomical, behavioral and evolutionary behavior of other dinosaurs.

Five successive ancestors leading from dinosaurs to modern birds. From left to right: the ancestral neotheropod (220 million years old), the ancestral tetanuran (200 myo), the ancestral coelurosaur (175 myo), the ancestral paravian (165 myo) and the ancestral avialan (150 myo). Davide Bonnadonna