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Dinosaurs’ Noses Helped Them Cool Down

Photo of ankylosaur skull.

The ankylosaur had unusually long and convoluted nasal passages that helped it cool down.

When it was alive, the ankylosaur had some crazy nasal passages coiled up in its snout. “Crazy” as in “crazy straws,” the colorful straws for kids with all of those complicated loops.

Scientists wanted to find out what a dinosaur was doing with complicated loops inside its nose. So, they did some CT scans of fossils from two different ankylosaur species, and created computer simulations that model how gases or fluids flow.

They found that those unusually long and convoluted nasal passages were key to helping the dinosaurs survive the warm temperatures of the Mesozoic by functioning something like an air-conditioner for the dinosaurs’ brains.

Large bodies are prone to overheating because they retain heat even after the air outside cools down. That can be a problem, especially if hot blood from their body’s core reached their brain.

Their long nasal passages helped prevent that. Scientists found that blood vessels taking blood to the brain ran right next to the nasal passages. When ankylosaurs took a breath, the hot blood in these blood vessels warmed up the cooler inhaled air, while the inhaled air cooled down the hot blood before it reached the brain.

Their bodies looked like they were encased in armor, but their brains needed that heat exchange for a little extra protection.

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