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How dinosaurs lived

Dinosaur defences

A group of Mamenchisaurus fend off their attackersA group of Mamenchisaurus fend off their attackers Like modern herbivores, different dinosaurs had ways of defending themselves. These included: herding together, running away, camouflage and defensive armour, as well the active use of tails, teeth, claws, horns and spikes as weapons. For the giant sauropods, such as Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus, their sheer size would have deterred predators from attacking them, although young or sick individuals would have been vulnerable. Confronted by attackers, the sauropods would rear up on their hind legs before crashing down on them with their heavy forelimbs and clawed toes. They could also flick their whip-like tails with great force into the predators' bodies.

Tail spikes

Stegosaurus carried a lethal defensive weapon: four long spikes sticking out from its tail. A powerful flick into the head of an onrushing predator would have inflicted severe damage.Stegosaurus thwacks Allosaurus with its spiked tail.Stegosaurus thwacks Allosaurus with its spiked tail.
Stegosaurus's tail spikesStegosaurus's tail spikesStudies of Stegosaurus's bone structure show how the weapon, sometimes called a "thagomizer", could be used. Unlike many other dinosaurs, the tendons (straps of muscle) in its tail were made of cartilage, not bone. This meant that the tail remained flexible: it could be swished from side to side. Stegosaurus's powerful, short forelimbs allowed it to swivel round quickly and launch its attack.

Many fossil Stegosaurus tail spikes found show damage, suggesting they were used in combat. Palaeontologists have even found a punctured bone belonging to an Allosaurus into which a Stegosaurus tail spike fits snugly.

The horns and frill of a Triceratops would probably have not offered much defence against a hungry T. rex. Their more likely purpose was to impress females in courtship displays, or to be used in sparring contests between males.

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