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Huge armoured dinosaurs battled overheating with nasal air-conditioning

Researchers show that the heavily armored, club-tailed ankylosaurs had a built-in air conditioner in their snouts.

Heat exchange through the highly convoluted nasal passages of the Cretaceous ankylosaurian dinosaur Euoplocephalus not only efficiently warmed and humidified the inspired air on its way to the lungs but also cooled the blood running through the nasal veins, much of which was destined for the brain. In this way, the brain was protected from the high temperatures of the hot arterial blood coming from the body core.

The team used CT scanning and a powerful engineering approach called computational fluid dynamics to simulate how air moved through the nasal passages of two different ankylosaur species, the hippo-sized Panoplosaurus and larger rhino-sized Euoplocephalus, to test how well ankylosaur noses transferred heat from the body to the inhaled air.

Smell may be a primary function of the nose, but noses are also heat exchangers, making sure that air is warmed and humidified before it reaches our delicate lungs. To accomplish this effective air conditioning, birds and mammals, including humans, rely on thin curls of bone and cartilage within their nasal cavities called turbinates, which increase the surface area, allowing for air to come into contact with more of the nasal walls.

When the researchers compared their findings to data from living animals, they discovered that the dinosaurs' noses were just as efficient at warming and cooling respired air. In Panoplosaurus, they were a bit longer than the skull itself and in Euoplocephalus they were almost twice as long as the skull, which is why they're coiled up in the snout.

The complicated nasal airways of these dinosaurs were acting as radiators to cool down the brain with a constant flow of cooled venous blood, allowing them to keep a cool head at all times. This natural engineering feat also may have allowed the evolution of the great sizes of so many dinosaurs.


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