Tech UPTechnologyThis dinosaur had no teeth, but was it carnivorous?

This dinosaur had no teeth, but was it carnivorous?


Berthasaura leopoldinae has been the scientific name given to a new species of dinosaur discovered in Brazil. It lived in present-day South America in the mid-Cretaceous, between 120 and 100 million years ago. The species is part of the theropod family, bipedal dinosaurs that include predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor . And here is the problem with this new fossil: we have a widespread image of theropods as hunters with powerful teeth to tear apart their prey. But Berthasaura has no teeth. What did this dinosaur eat?

A question still to be resolved

“To figure out the diet of an ancient animal, scientists typically turn to a handful of techniques and tools. One of them is to examine the stable isotopes left by food in fossilized teeth, something impossible in the case of Berthasaura. Another creates an accurate 3D model of the animal’s skull to see how it would have moved when biting, tearing or chewing potential food. But since Berthasaura’s bones were found disarticulated, this is not possible either.”

That is why Berthasaura ‘s diet continues to be a subject of debate among specialists, even among members of the same research team that published the study on this new dinosaur. Some believe that it was herbivorous, others carnivorous and there are those who bet on an omnivorous diet .

The fossil was found in paleontological expeditions between 2011 and 2014. The remains appeared in the Goio Erê Formation, in the state of Paraná, in southern Brazil. The site is called the Pterosaur Cemetery due to the large number of fossils that have been found of this flying reptile.

However, the description of the newly discovered dinosaur species was not published until the end of 2021, when the team of scientists published the results in the journal “Scientific Reports”. The years that have passed have been the fruit of the hard work that this puzzle in the form of a fossil has required. And all this, despite its exceptional level of conservation. The holotype fossil is made up of parts of the skull and jaw, vertebral column, pectoral bones, and forelimbs and hindlimbs. This makes Berthasaura leopoldinae one of the most complete fossils in the history of Brazilian paleontology .

the absence of teeth

Berthasaura leopoldinae had a toothless bill. When analyzed, specialists thought of Limusaurus inextricabilis , another toothless theropod that was discovered in northwest China. This dinosaur is between 161 and 156 million years old and the investigation of the species based on several fossils has been able to confirm that this dinosaur was born with teeth, but lost them during its adolescence . On the other hand, the presence of cartilage in the cranial bones of Berthasaura leopoldinae , suggests that the fossil could be from a hatchling. Therefore, it appears that Berthasaura was toothless at any point in her life . For Alexander Keller, director of the National Museum of Brazil, who participated in the research team, the finding has opened a new perspective in the study of theropods:

“The fact that we now have this toothless dinosaur means we have to rethink the evolutionary loss of teeth for all dinosaurs in this group. It is a discovery that will change the way we think and what we know about these animals.”

However, the absence or absence of teeth is not significant to assign a specific type of diet to the new dinosaur. Although Berthasaura leopoldinae has a very short and blunt beak, something unusual in carnivorous species, specialists suspect that it may have been an omnivore, also capable of tearing the flesh of its prey just as modern crows do .

Her name honors women scientists

The characteristics of Berthasaura leopoldinae make this specimen a unique animal that provides new information about the evolution of dinosaurs and could be essential to understand how we went from the toothed snout of the dinosaurs to the beak of the birds.

But Berthasaura leopoldinae has another distinctive feature. The generic name is in honor of Bertha Lutz , a prominent Brazilian scientist who fought for women’s suffrage. And the name of the species is in deference to María Leopoldina , the first Brazilian empress who defended the study and dissemination of natural sciences. We are facing one of the few dinosaurs that receive their name in honor of women:

“It is an important message that could inspire new scientists to enter these fields, and in particular the study of dinosaurs.”


DeSouza, GA et al. 2021. The first edentulous ceratosaur from South America. Scientific Reports 11, 22281. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-01312-4.

Langlois, J. 2021. A toothless but… carnivorous dinosaur?

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