The skull of Carnotaurus

Carnotaurus sastrei. Credit: Gabriel Lio.

The iconic Carnotaurus sastrei was collected in the lower section of La Colonia Formation, Chubut Province, Argentina, by an expedition led by Argentinian paleontologist José Bonaparte. In 1985, Bonaparte published a note presenting Carnotaurus sastrei as a new genus and species and briefly describing the skull and lower jaw. The skull is almost complete (the only missing parts correspond to portions of the left epipterygoid, the right posterolateral area of the parietal and most of teeth crowns) and is exceptionally well preserved measuring 60 cm from the tip of the premaxillae to the distal tip of the paroccipital process. The most distinctive features of Carnotaurus are the two robust conical horns that extend from the frontals. The horns are dorsoventrally compressed, and 146 mm long on both sides. The dorsal surface of each horn is ornamented with a series of longitudinal grooves. A new study by Mauricio Cerroni, Fernando Novas, and Juan Canale provides some new potential autapomorphies diagnostic of Carnotaurus, such as nasolacrimal conduct with an accessory canal, ventral excavation on the quadrate and lateral fossa of the pterygoid.

Skull and neck of Carnotaurus sastrei

The skull of abelisaurids is characterized by having a short and deep cranium at the level of the snout, antorbital fenestra with reduced antorbital fossa, frontals strongly thickened and ornamented conforming well-developed cornual structures, and expanded parietal crest with a tall parietal eminence. The nasal bones of a Carnotaurus are extensively sculptured by highly projected rugosities. Previous studies showed the presence of a row of foramina probably neurovascular, along the dorsal nasal surface, a condition also shared with Rugops and Skorpiovenator. Although in Carnotaurus these foramina are much smaller in diameter.

The horns are predominantly solid and CT scans analyses reveals the presence of a small pneumatic recess on each frontal horn. Those small pneumatic recesses in the frontal horns of Carnotaurus adds new information about the variability of the pneumatic traits on the frontal bones in non-avian theropods. Due to the nature of the horns, the thickness of the skull roof, and the robust neck (with a possible well developed epaxial musculature), it was suggested that Carnotaurus would have the potential to use the horns for some kind of agonistic behaviour. The CT scans also revealed several pneumatic cavities (e.g. promaxillary and lacrimal recesses) much less developed than in Majungasaurus, the only other abelisaurid in which these structures were extensively analysed. The ossification of hyoid apparatus (including basihyal), is one the most complex and outstanding features of Carnotaurus because this element would have remained cartilaginous in most theropods.



M.A. Cerroni , J. I. Canale & F. E. Novas (2020): The skull of Carnotaurus sastrei Bonaparte 1985 revisited: insights from craniofacial bones, palate and lower jaw, Historical Biology, DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2020.1802445

Cerroni, M.A., Paulina Carabajal, A., Novel information on the endocranial morphology of the abelisaurid theropod Carnotaurus sastrei .C .R. Palevol (2019),


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