Dale Russell described the osteology, morphology, and ecology of the small theropod “Stenonychosaurus inequalis” in two papers, speculating on its life habits, brain power, vision, movement, feeding, and hand capabilities. Russell even pondered a tool-using dinosauroid, the hypothetical troodontid descendant if the lineage had survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. We revisit the life habits of the North American troodontids Troodon formosus and Latenivenatrix mcmasterae in part by reviewing various trace fossils of T. formosus discovered in Montana. These fossils include egg clutches, a nest, and recently discovered regurgitalites. We also contemplate the possibility of dinosaur tool use. Troodon likely constructed earthen nests in the same way that ratites and other birds did to create their nesting scrapes through backward hindlimb kicks. The more complex clutch architecture suggests dexterous movement of the eggs, potentially requiring manual manipulation. Functionally, reproductive traces support elevated body temperatures and a metabolic output that approach but do not equal that of modern birds. Brooding would require very high energy investment from the adult. The regurgitalites largely contain multi-individual aggregations of the marsupialiform Alphadon and support Russell’s hypotheses of troodontids as crepuscular to nocturnal, intelligent, small game hunters with elevated metabolism and enhanced vision. Tool use in a few crocodilians and widely among extant birds suggests a reasonable possibility of this behavior in nonavian dinosaurs. Whether an avian-comparable encephalization quotient and freed forelimbs would make North American troodontids good candidates for exhibiting such behavior remains an open and speculative question. However, given the minimal modification made to tools by modern archosaurs, recognition of fossil tools poses a challenging problem.
Revisiting Russell’s troodontid: autecology, physiology, and speculative tool use1
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D.J. Varricchio, J.D. Hogan, W.J. Freimuth; Revisiting Russell’s troodontid: autecology, physiology, and speculative tool use1. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 2021;; 58 (9): 796–811. doi: https://doi.org/10.1139/cjes-2020-0184
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