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The truth about Tyrannosaurus Rex

October 9th, 2013

feather-fur

No dinosaur has captured the imagination of the public quite like Tyrannosaurus rex, the star of countless movies, books, and television documentaries — very few of which have gotten the tyrant king right. I’ll be focusing solely on Tyrannosaurus this week, clearing up some of the misconceptions that have followed it ever since it chased Jeff Goldblum on the silver screen.

 

Was Tyrannosaurus a hunter or a scavenger?

As with most questions that attempt to paint nature as black or white, the answer lies somewhere in the grey. While there is almost zero chance an animal the size of Tyrannosaurus would have evolved to be solely a scavenger, there are few large predators alive that don’t scavenge for a significant portion of their diet. Tyrannosaurus had all the features of an incredibly capable hunter, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have taken advantage of food wherever it could be found.

 

Were its small arms useless?

Probably not. While they were pretty small in comparison to the rest of its body, they were still capable of an immense amount of strength. Tyrannosaurus arm bones are incredibly thick and sturdy, leading some scientists to believe that they might have been used to hold onto struggling prey. They may have also aided in mating and copulation, but let’s not dwell on that mental image.

 

Was its vision only good at detecting movement?

No, that’s a silly idea. Tyrannosaurus probably had fantastic eyesight due to the animal’s forward facing eyes, which had a larger range of binocular vision than modern-day hawks and eagles. Their sense of smell was likely also exceptional, since Tyrannosaurus sported some of the largest olfactory bulbs of any dinosaur.

 

Could it run as fast as a jeep?

No but, to be fair, there probably wasn’t a dinosaur that could. While the estimated speed for Tyrannosaurus is constantly being changed as new research is published, most paleontologists agree that they could have at least outran the dinosaurs that made up the majority of their diet.

However, there is a catch. Though tyrannosaur leg muscles point to them having long, powerful strides, this type of movement would have required an immense amount of energy. So while a Tyrannosaurus could run faster than its prey, it probably couldn’t run for very long, meaning that it might have been an ambush predator similar to modern big cats.

 

Did Tyrannosaurus have feathers?

They almost certainly did, at least in some capacity. While we have no direct fossil evidence of Tyrannosaurus being feathered, we have plenty of evidence telling us that other tyrannosaurs were. Because of this, it seems likely that Tyrannosaurus had feathers, although it may have lost some of these feathers as it aged and grew in size. Just don’t call them ‘giant chickens’ — remember that they still had the jaw strength to bite through a foot of solid bone, whether they had feathers or not.

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