From what most people know about Tyrannosaurus rex, the fact that it was a ferocious killer is not a shock; this is what we have been told in movies such as ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Land Before Time’, and looking at its appearance one could deduct its eating habits from the offset! But, new evidence of T. rex’s teeth confirms the idea that this dinosaur hunted and killed their prey- not scavenge as some palaeontologists once thought.
So let’s be briefly be introduced to this meat-eating monster: it lived in the Cretaceous period and died along with the rest of the dinosaurs’ demise 64 million years ago. They lived on the continent that is now North America. Its massive skull was balanced by a long tail. Although there are many other therapod dinosaurs that surpass Tyrannosaurus rex in length, this is one of the largest land predators and reached up to 12.3m in size.
In the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota, a fossilised crown of a Tyrannosaurus rex has been found lodged in a hadrosaur spine. The hadrosaur seemed to survive the attack, proving that Tyrannosaurus rex hunted the unfortunate plant eater. Previous evidence was the stomach contents of one specimen- it had ceratopsian bones in its belly. However, it had been argued that the prey might have already been dead, and that the T. rex might have scavenged upon the carcass, like a vulture. To add to this, coprolites were found containing hadrosaur remains. This led to a somewhat dead end as, yet again, the hadrosaur may have already been dead, and it was not definite that the dung was indeed a T. rex’s.
Although the stomach contents and the faeces led to an inconclusive hypothesis, the crown showed that Tyrannosaurus rex was more like a lion than a vulture. First, measurements of the tooth and the serrations into the hadrosaur spine were measured, this was to ensure that indeed it was a T. rex and not one of its relatives. Then, the hadrosaur tail was examined. The bone had begun to heal, indicating that the dinosaur was being chased, was bitten, then made a narrow escape.
I’m not 100% sure why this was such a shock to many palaeontologists. Indeed, T. rex being a scavenger was not out of the question. The animal may have eaten others left-overs, just like any opportunist carnivore would. But, it was highly unlikely that Tyrannosaurus rex’s appetite was satisfied solely on scavenging alone- the animal was simply too big. And, the dinosaurs extraordinary bite was surely not just for picking flesh off of a carcass. It is almost impossible to figure out whether Tyrannosaurus rex preferred hunting or scavenging (unless we build a time machine), it may have even differed from individual to individual.
“The fact is, all of the evidence thus far used to argue that T. rex was a scavenger is all circumstantial and indirect, purely conjectural. This new specimen offers the best and most ironclad evidence that we could ever have hoped for, and it demonstrates with absolute certainty that a T.rex engaged a living hadrosaur,” said lead author Robert DePalma from Florida’s Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.
Once again, Tyrannosaurus rex is officially the apex predator of the Late Cretaceous period. This is as strong enough evidence of palaeoecology one could get from a single fossil. Normally, with teeth marks found on skeletons, it is very difficult to tell whether the marks were made before death or post mortem. This is unique in the fact that the bone was lodged into the wound and the wound had healed around it, confirming the hadrosaur was attacked, not scavenged upon.
Also, why was this on the forefront of palaeontological discussion? One might think there are a lot bigger things to discuss than this. Why there was a debate I the first place was rather baffeling- most canviorous animals that are alive today will scavenge or hunt when necessary, so why should this be any different with extinct animals? Indeed, it seems that these sorts of debates are only to get into the press, because everyone knows what a T. rex is- not everyone knows or cares, say, about the evolution of early chordates.
Well, I guess they got what they wanted because I, and many others, have written an article about it! But, it is a discovery none the less, and we cannot deny that Tyrannosaurus rex is pretty awesome.