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Range of motion in the forelimb of the theropod dinosaur Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, and implications for predatory behaviour

  • Phil Senter (a1) and James H. Robins (a2)

Casts of forelimb elements of the Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Acrocanthosaurus atokensis were manually manipulated to determine range of motion and infer function. It was found that the humerus can swing posteriorly into a horizontal position but can neither swing laterally to glenoid height nor anteriorly much beyond the glenoid. The forearm can approach but not achieve full extension and right-angle flexion. Pronation and supination are precluded by immobility of the radius relative to the ulna. Motion also seems to be restricted at the wrist. The palm faces medially, and digital movement is subtransverse. All three digits are capable of extreme hyper-extension. Digits I and II converge during flexion. Only digit III can be abducted or adducted. The limited anterior range of brachial motion infers that Acrocanthosaurus first apprehended prey orally, using the forelimb afterwards to secure its grip or deliver fatal blows. Acrocanthosaurus could only manually grasp prey that was beneath its chest, towards which it may have used its mouth to move prey. Struggling prey would have impaled itself further upon the permanently and strongly flexed first ungual. The range of motion in the forelimb of Acrocanthosaurus resembles that of Herrerasaurus and Dilophosaurus, and exceeds that of Tyrannosaurus. Acrocanthosaurus exhibits a greater manual range of motion than ornithomimid and deinonychosaurian coelurosaurs, but less at the shoulder and elbow. Coelurosaurian theropods exhibit reduced digital flexion and hyper-extension, which suggests a change in the use of the manus in coelurosaurs.

Corresponding author
All correspondence to: P. Senter. E-mail:
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Journal of Zoology
  • ISSN: 0952-8369
  • EISSN: 1469-7998
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-zoology
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