Brazilian scientists have reconstructed the pea-sized brain of a meat-eating dinosaur from the Triassic era for the first time.
The four-foot beast, named Buriolestes schultzi, walked the Earth around 230 million years ago.
A near-perfect fossil of the meat-eating dinosaur was unearthed in 2015 during an expedition to the rainforest of southern Brazil led by palaeontologist Dr Rodrigo Muller, from the Federal University of Santa Maria.
While soft tissues like the brain do not survive the fossilisation process the ancient animal’s brain-case is so well preserved that his team were able to reconstruct the precise size and shape of the brain.
The researchers used a CT scan to model the impression the brain left on the inside of the skull.
Dr Muller explained: “The technique demands well-preserved braincases, which envelopes the tissues. It is the upper and back part of the skull, which forms a protective case around the brain.”
“Buriolestes dates back to the dawn of the dinosaurs,” he added.
“So far, complete brain-cases from the oldest dinosaurs worldwide were unknown. It has helped unlock the secrets of its way of life.
“The brain of Buriolestes is relatively small, weighing about 1.5 grams (0.05oz) – which is slightly lighter than a pea,” he went on.
He added: “The shape is primitive, resembling a crocodile’s.
“In addition, the presence of well-developed structures in the cerebellum indicates the capability to track moving prey.”
He says the areas of the brain associated with the sense of smell were not very well-developed and Buriolestes would have hunted using is sharp eyesight.
The Buriolestes species would one day evolve into the great sauropods such as diplodocus – and while its brain size seems small compared to its body its relative brain size was quite large compared to the size of the brain of the plant-eating diplodocus.
Dr Muller went on: “The ‘cognitive capability’ of Buriolestes is lower than that of theropod dinosaurs, the lineage that includes T rex and Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame – and birds.”