Science: How dinosaurs cracked the whip

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The Independent Online
The real Jurassic Park may have been alive with the sound of whips. A new theory suggests that dinosaurs such as the brontosaurus may have cracked their tails like huge whips to woo lovers and intimidate rivals.

Nathan Myhrvold, head researcher at software giant Microsoft, who studied physics at Cambridge University, has developed computer simulations of the tail movement of sauropods - herbivorous dinosaurs - to back the theory. The giant creatures, which included brontosaurus and diplodocus, had long necks and tails and stood on four legs. Myhrvold examined the tails of eight fossil sauropods and noticed that the tail vertebrae were longest about a quarter of the way down from the base - a known site of stress in a whip. In half the specimens, the vertebrae were fused at this point, possibly indicating stress injury.

Myhrvold believed these fossils were males who cracked their whip in sexual and aggressive displays. "Males whipped their tails to get a date," he told New Scientist magazine.

Some experts remain sceptical, however, pointing out that the violent motion would damage soft tissues. Peter Dodson, from the University of Pennsylvania, said: "Whipping delicate blood vessels around at the speed of sound doesn't sound like a wholesome thing to do."