In the study, paleontologists Chris Tijani Barker and colleagues examined the internal anatomy of the snout bones of the theropod Neovenator salerii. The scans showed that the small pits on the external bone surface were linked to a large branching channel within the bones. The internal anatomy was so well preserved, the researchers identified it as being formed by branches of the trigeminal nerve and associated blood vessels. Co-author Darren Naish said, “The results were unexpectedly good and reveal a level of anatomical detail we hoped for but didn't realize we'd actually get.”
The high concentration of nerves endings on the snout show that it was highly sensitive in Neovenator. “Quite what this facial sensitivity means for the behavior and biology of these animals is the big question - roles in feeding, foraging, nesting and social behavior are all possible,” said Naish. Barker and colleagues suggest that it would help theropods differentiate meat from the bone when feeding. This function is further supported by the pattern of wear on teeth and the rarity of tooth marks on dinosaur bones.
Additionally, the sensitivity could have played a role in maintaining nests. Most theropods are thought to have built vegetation covered mound nests on the ground, similar to living crocodiles. Increased snout sensitivity could help parents sense temperature and movement.