Tyrannosaurus[nb 1] is a genus of coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur. The species Tyrannosaurus rex (rex meaning "king" in Latin), often called T. rex or colloquially T-Rex, is one of the most well-represented of the large theropods. Tyrannosaurus lived throughout what is now western North America, on what was then an island continent known as Laramidia. Tyrannosaurus had a much wider range than other tyrannosaurids. Fossils are found in a variety of rock formations dating to the Maastrichtian age of the upper Cretaceous Period, 68 to 66 million years ago. It was the last known member of the tyrannosaurids, and among the last non-avian dinosaurs to exist before the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.
|Reconstruction of the T. rex type specimen (CM 9380) at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History|
Like other tyrannosaurids, Tyrannosaurus was a bipedal carnivore with a massive skull balanced by a long, heavy tail. Relative to its large and powerful hindlimbs, Tyrannosaurus forelimbs were short but unusually powerful for their size and had two clawed digits. The most complete specimen measures up to 12.3 m (40 ft) in length, up to 3.66 meters (12 ft) tall at the hips, and according to most modern estimates 8.4 metric tons (9.3 short tons) to 14 metric tons (15.4 short tons) in weight. Although other theropods rivaled or exceeded Tyrannosaurus rex in size, it is still among the largest known land predators and is estimated to have exerted the largest bite force among all terrestrial animals. By far the largest carnivore in its environment, Tyrannosaurus rex was most likely an apex predator, preying upon hadrosaurs, armored herbivores like ceratopsians and ankylosaurs, and possibly sauropods. Some experts have suggested the dinosaur was primarily a scavenger. The question of whether Tyrannosaurus was an apex predator or a pure scavenger was among the longest debates in paleontology. Most paleontologists today accept that Tyrannosaurus was both an active predator and a scavenger.
More than 50 specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex have been identified, some of which are nearly complete skeletons. Soft tissue and proteins have been reported in at least one of these specimens. The abundance of fossil material has allowed significant research into many aspects of its biology, including its life history and biomechanics. The feeding habits, physiology and potential speed of Tyrannosaurus rex are a few subjects of debate. Its taxonomy is also controversial, as some scientists consider Tarbosaurus bataar from Asia to be a second Tyrannosaurus species while others maintain Tarbosaurus is a separate genus. Several other genera of North American tyrannosaurids have also been synonymized with Tyrannosaurus.
As the archetypal theropod, Tyrannosaurus is one of the best-known dinosaurs since the 20th century, and has been featured in film, advertising, postal stamps, and many other media.
Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the largest land carnivores of all time; the largest complete specimen, located at the Field Museum of Natural History under the name FMNH PR2081 and nicknamed Sue, measured 12.3 meters (40 ft) long, and was 3.66 meters (12 ft) tall at the hips, and according to the most recent studies estimated to have weighed between 8.4 metric tons (9.3 short tons) to 14 metric tons (15.4 short tons) when alive. Not every adult Tyrannosaurus specimen recovered is as big. Historically average adult mass estimates have varied widely over the years, from as low as 4.5 metric tons (5.0 short tons), to more than 7.2 metric tons (7.9 short tons), with most modern estimates ranging between 5.4 metric tons (6.0 short tons) and 8.0 metric tons (8.8 short tons).
The neck of Tyrannosaurus rex formed a natural S-shaped curve like that of other theropods, but was short and muscular to support the massive head. The forelimbs had only two clawed fingers, along with an additional small metacarpal representing the remnant of a third digit. In contrast the hind limbs were among the longest in proportion to body size of any theropod. The tail was heavy and long, sometimes containing over forty vertebrae, in order to balance the massive head and torso and to provide space for massive locomotor muscles. To compensate for the immense bulk of the animal, many bones throughout the skeleton were hollowed, reducing its weight without significant loss of strength.
The largest known Tyrannosaurus rex skull measures up to 1.52 meters (5 ft) in length. Large fenestrae (openings) in the skull reduced weight, as in all carnivorous theropods. In other respects Tyrannosaurus's skull was significantly different from those of large non-tyrannosaurid theropods. It was extremely wide at the rear but had a narrow snout, allowing unusually good binocular vision. The skull bones were massive and the nasals and some other bones were fused, preventing movement between them; but many were pneumatized (contained a "honeycomb" of tiny air spaces) and thus lighter. These and other skull-strengthening features are part of the tyrannosaurid trend towards an increasingly powerful bite, which easily surpassed that of all non-tyrannosaurids. The tip of the upper jaw was U-shaped (most non-tyrannosauroid carnivores had V-shaped upper jaws), which increased the amount of tissue and bone a tyrannosaur could rip out with one bite, although it also increased the stresses on the front teeth.
The teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex displayed marked heterodonty (differences in shape). The premaxillary teeth at the front of the upper jaw were closely packed, D-shaped in cross-section, had reinforcing ridges on the rear surface, were incisiform (their tips were chisel-like blades) and curved backwards. The D-shaped cross-section, reinforcing ridges and backwards curve reduced the risk that the teeth would snap when Tyrannosaurus bit and pulled. The remaining teeth were robust, like "lethal bananas" rather than daggers, more widely spaced and also had reinforcing ridges. Those in the upper jaw were larger than those in all but the rear of the lower jaw. The largest found so far is estimated to have been 30.5 centimeters (12 in) long including the root when the animal was alive, making it the largest tooth of any carnivorous dinosaur yet found.
Skin and possible feathers
The discovery of feathered dinosaurs led to debates if, and to what extent, Tyrannosaurus might have been feathered. Filamentous structures, which are commonly recognized as the precursors of feathers, have been reported in the small-bodied, basal tyrannosauroid Dilong paradoxus from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China in 2004. Because integumentary impressions of larger tyrannosauroids known at that time showed evidence of scales, the researchers who studied Dilong speculated that insulating feathers might have been lost by larger species due to their smaller surface-to-volume ratio. The subsequent discovery of the giant species Yutyrannus huali, also from the Yixian, showed that even some large tyrannosauroids had feathers covering much of their bodies, casting doubt on the hypothesis that they were a size-related feature. A 2017 study reviewed known skin impressions of tyrannosaurids, including those of a Tyrannosaurus specimen nicknamed "Wyrex" (BHI 6230) which preserves patches of mosaic scales on the tail, hip, and neck. The study concluded that feather covering of large tyrannosaurids such as Tyrannosaurus was, if present, limited to the upper side of the trunk.
A conference abstract published in 2016 posited that theropods such as Tyrannosaurus had their upper teeth covered in lips, instead of bare teeth as seen in crocodilians. This was based on the presence of enamel, which according to the study needs to remain hydrated, an issue not faced by aquatic animals like crocodilians. A 2017 study, however, found that tyrannosaurids had large, flat scales on their snouts instead of lips.
History of research
Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History, named Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905. The generic name is derived from the Greek words τύραννος (tyrannos, meaning "tyrant") and σαῦρος (sauros, meaning "lizard"). Osborn used the Latin word rex, meaning "king", for the specific name. The full binomial therefore translates to "tyrant lizard the king" or "King Tyrant Lizard", emphasizing the animal's size and perceived dominance over other species of the time.
Teeth from what is now documented as a Tyrannosaurus rex were found in 1874 by Arthur Lakes near Golden, Colorado. In the early 1890s, John Bell Hatcher collected postcranial elements in eastern Wyoming. The fossils were believed to be from a large species of Ornithomimus (O. grandis) but are now considered Tyrannosaurus rex remains. Vertebral fragments found by Edward Drinker Cope in western South Dakota in 1892 and assigned to Manospondylus gigas have also been recognized as belonging to Tyrannosaurus rex.
Barnum Brown, assistant curator of the American Museum of Natural History, found the first partial skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex in eastern Wyoming in 1900. H. F. Osborn originally named this skeleton Dynamosaurus imperiosus in a paper in 1905. Brown found another partial skeleton in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana in 1902. Osborn used this skeleton to describe Tyrannosaurus rex in the same paper in which D. imperiosus was described. In 1906, Osborn recognized that the two skeletons were from the same species and selected Tyrannosaurus as the preferred name. The original Dynamosaurus material resides in the collections of the Natural History Museum, London. Brown's 1902 find is credited with being the first discovery of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Writing at the time Brown said "Quarry No. 1 contains the femur, pubes, humerus, three vertebrae and two undetermined bones of a large Carnivorous Dinosaur not described by Marsh.... I have never seen anything like it from the Cretaceous". In 1941, Brown's 1902 find comprising approximately 34 bones was sold to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for $7,000.
The first named fossil specimen which can be attributed to Tyrannosaurus rex consists of two partial vertebrae (one of which has been lost) found by Edward Drinker Cope in 1892. Cope believed that they belonged to an "agathaumid" (ceratopsid) dinosaur, and named them Manospondylus gigas, meaning "giant porous vertebra" in reference to the numerous openings for blood vessels he found in the bone. The M. gigas remains were later identified by Hatcher as those of a theropod rather than a ceratopsid, and H. F. Osborn recognized the similarity between M. gigas and Tyrannosaurus rex as early as 1917. Owing to the fragmentary nature of the Manospondylus vertebrae, Osborn did not synonymize the two genera. In June 2000, the Black Hills Institute found around 10% of a Tyrannosaurus skeleton (BHI 6248) at a site that might have been the original M. gigas locality.
Sue Hendrickson, an amateur paleontologist, discovered the most complete (approximately 85%) and largest Tyrannosaurus skeleton known in the Hell Creek Formation near Faith, South Dakota, on August 12, 1990. This specimen, nicknamed Sue in her honor, was the object of a legal battle over its ownership. In 1997, the litigation was settled in favor of Maurice Williams, the original land owner. The fossil collection was purchased by the Field Museum of Natural History at auction for $7.6 million, making it the most expensive dinosaur skeleton to date. From 1998 to 1999, Field Museum of Natural History preparators spent over 25,000 hours taking the rock off the bones. The bones were then shipped to New Jersey where the mount was made. The finished mount was then taken apart, and along with the bones, shipped back to Chicago for the final assembly. The mounted skeleton opened to the public on May 17, 2000 in the great hall (Stanley Field Hall) at the Field Museum of Natural History. A study of this specimen's fossilized bones showed that Sue reached full size at age 19 and died at age 28 years, the longest any tyrannosaur is known to have lived. Early speculation that Sue died from a bite to the back of the head was not confirmed. Though subsequent study showed many pathologies in the skeleton, no bite marks were found.
Another Tyrannosaurus, nicknamed Stan, in honor of amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison, was recovered from the Hell Creek Formation near Buffalo, South Dakota in 1992. Stan is second most complete skeleton found with 199 bones recovered representing 70% of the total. This tyrannosaur also had many bone pathologies, including broken and healed ribs, a broken (and healed) neck, and a substantial hole in the back of its head, about the size of a Tyrannosaurus tooth.
In the summer of 2000, Jack Horner discovered five Tyrannosaurus skeletons near the Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana. One of the specimens was anticipated to possibly be the largest Tyrannosaurus ever found. In 2001, a 50% complete skeleton of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus was discovered in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana by a crew from the Burpee Museum of Natural History of Rockford, Illinois. Dubbed Jane, the find was initially considered to be the first known skeleton of a pygmy tyrannosaurid, Nanotyrannus, but subsequent research revealed that it is more likely a juvenile Tyrannosaurus, and the most complete and best preserved juvenile example known; Jane is exhibited at the Burpee Museum of Natural History.
In 2006, Montana State University revealed that it possessed the largest Tyrannosaurus skull yet discovered (from a specimen named MOR 008), measuring 5 feet (152 cm) long. Subsequent comparisons of heads indicated that the longest was 136.5 centimetres (53.7 in) (from specimen LACM 23844) and the widest head was 90.2 centimetres (35.5 in) (from Sue).
Tyrannosaurus is the type genus of the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea, the family Tyrannosauridae, and the subfamily Tyrannosaurinae; in other words it is the standard by which paleontologists decide whether to include other species in the same group. Other members of the tyrannosaurine subfamily include the North American Daspletosaurus and the Asian Tarbosaurus, both of which have occasionally been synonymized with Tyrannosaurus. Tyrannosaurids were once commonly thought to be descendants of earlier large theropods such as megalosaurs and carnosaurs, although more recently they were reclassified with the generally smaller coelurosaurs.
In 1955, Soviet paleontologist Evgeny Maleev named a new species, Tyrannosaurus bataar, from Mongolia. By 1965, this species had been renamed Tarbosaurus bataar. Despite the renaming, many phylogenetic analyses have found Tarbosaurus bataar to be the sister taxon of Tyrannosaurus rex, and it has often been considered an Asian species of Tyrannosaurus. A recent redescription of the skull of Tarbosaurus bataar has shown that it was much narrower than that of Tyrannosaurus rex and that during a bite, the distribution of stress in the skull would have been very different, closer to that of Alioramus, another Asian tyrannosaur. A related cladistic analysis found that Alioramus, not Tyrannosaurus, was the sister taxon of Tarbosaurus, which, if true, would suggest that Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus should remain separate. The discovery and description of Qianzhousaurus in 2014, would disprove this and reveal that Alioramus belonged to the clade Alioramini. The discovery of the tyrannosaurid Lythronax further indicates that Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus are closely related, forming a clade with fellow Asian tyrannosaurid Zhuchengtyrannus, with Lythronax being their sister taxon. A further study from 2016 by Steve Brusatte, Thomas Carr et al., also indicates Tyrannosaurus may have been an immigrant from Asia, as well as a possible descendant of Tarbosaurus. The study further indicates the possibility that Tyrannosaurus may have driven other tyrannosaurids that were native to North America extinct through competition. Other finds in 2006 indicate giant tyrannosaurs may have been present in North America as early as 75 million years ago. Whether or not this specimen belongs to Tyrannosaurus rex, a new species of Tyrannosaurus, or a new genus entirely is still unknown.
Other tyrannosaurid fossils found in the same formations as Tyrannosaurus rex were originally classified as separate taxa, including Aublysodon and Albertosaurus megagracilis, the latter being named Dinotyrannus megagracilis in 1995. These fossils are now universally considered to belong to juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. A small but nearly complete skull from Montana, 60 centimeters (2.0 ft) long, may be an exception. This skull was originally classified as a species of Gorgosaurus (G. lancensis) by Charles W. Gilmore in 1946, but was later referred to a new genus, Nanotyrannus. Opinions remain divided on the validity of N. lancensis. Many paleontologists consider the skull to belong to a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. There are minor differences between the two species, including the higher number of teeth in N. lancensis, which lead some scientists to recommend keeping the two genera separate until further research or discoveries clarify the situation.
The identification of several specimens as juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex has allowed scientists to document ontogenetic changes in the species, estimate the lifespan, and determine how quickly the animals would have grown. The smallest known individual (LACM 28471, the "Jordan theropod") is estimated to have weighed only 30 kg (66 lb), while the largest, such as FMNH PR2081 (Sue) most likely weighed about 5,650 kg (12,460 lb). Histologic analysis of Tyrannosaurus rex bones showed LACM 28471 had aged only 2 years when it died, while Sue was 28 years old, an age which may have been close to the maximum for the species.
Histology has also allowed the age of other specimens to be determined. Growth curves can be developed when the ages of different specimens are plotted on a graph along with their mass. A Tyrannosaurus rex growth curve is S-shaped, with juveniles remaining under 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) until approximately 14 years of age, when body size began to increase dramatically. During this rapid growth phase, a young Tyrannosaurus rex would gain an average of 600 kg (1,300 lb) a year for the next four years. At 18 years of age, the curve plateaus again, indicating that growth slowed dramatically. For example, only 600 kg (1,300 lb) separated the 28-year-old Sue from a 22-year-old Canadian specimen (RTMP 81.12.1). A 2004 histological study performed by different workers corroborates these results, finding that rapid growth began to slow at around 16 years of age.
A study by Hutchinson et al. in 2011 corroborated the previous estimation methods in general, but their estimation of peak growth rates is significantly higher; it found that the "maximum growth rates for T. rex during the exponential stage are 1790 kg/year". Although these results were much higher than previous estimations, the authors noted that these results significantly lowered the great difference between its actual growth rate and the one which would be expected of an animal of its size. The sudden change in growth rate at the end of the growth spurt may indicate physical maturity, a hypothesis which is supported by the discovery of medullary tissue in the femur of a 16 to 20-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex from Montana (MOR 1125, also known as B-rex). Medullary tissue is found only in female birds during ovulation, indicating that B-rex was of reproductive age. Further study indicates an age of 18 for this specimen. In 2016, it was finally confirmed by Mary Higby Schweitzer and Lindsay Zanno et al that the soft tissue within the femur of MOR 1125 was medullary tissue. This also confirmed the identity of the specimen as a female. The discovery of medullary bone tissue within Tyrannosaurus may prove valuable in determining the sex of other dinosaur species in future examinations, as the chemical makeup of medullary tissue is unmistakable. Other tyrannosaurids exhibit extremely similar growth curves, although with lower growth rates corresponding to their lower adult sizes.
Over half of the known Tyrannosaurus rex specimens appear to have died within six years of reaching sexual maturity, a pattern which is also seen in other tyrannosaurs and in some large, long-lived birds and mammals today. These species are characterized by high infant mortality rates, followed by relatively low mortality among juveniles. Mortality increases again following sexual maturity, partly due to the stresses of reproduction. One study suggests that the rarity of juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex fossils is due in part to low juvenile mortality rates; the animals were not dying in large numbers at these ages, and so were not often fossilized. This rarity may also be due to the incompleteness of the fossil record or to the bias of fossil collectors towards larger, more spectacular specimens. In a 2013 lecture, Thomas Holtz Jr. suggested that dinosaurs "lived fast and died young" because they reproduced quickly whereas mammals have long life spans because they take longer to reproduce. Gregory S. Paul also writes that Tyrannosaurus reproduced quickly and died young, but attributes their short life spans to the dangerous lives they lived.
As the number of known specimens increased, scientists began to analyze the variation between individuals and discovered what appeared to be two distinct body types, or morphs, similar to some other theropod species. As one of these morphs was more solidly built, it was termed the 'robust' morph while the other was termed 'gracile'. Several morphological differences associated with the two morphs were used to analyze sexual dimorphism in Tyrannosaurus rex, with the 'robust' morph usually suggested to be female. For example, the pelvis of several 'robust' specimens seemed to be wider, perhaps to allow the passage of eggs. It was also thought that the 'robust' morphology correlated with a reduced chevron on the first tail vertebra, also ostensibly to allow eggs to pass out of the reproductive tract, as had been erroneously reported for crocodiles.
In recent years, evidence for sexual dimorphism has been weakened. A 2005 study reported that previous claims of sexual dimorphism in crocodile chevron anatomy were in error, casting doubt on the existence of similar dimorphism between Tyrannosaurus rex sexes. A full-sized chevron was discovered on the first tail vertebra of Sue, an extremely robust individual, indicating that this feature could not be used to differentiate the two morphs anyway. As Tyrannosaurus rex specimens have been found from Saskatchewan to New Mexico, differences between individuals may be indicative of geographic variation rather than sexual dimorphism. The differences could also be age-related, with 'robust' individuals being older animals.
Only a single Tyrannosaurus rex specimen has been conclusively shown to belong to a specific sex. Examination of B-rex demonstrated the preservation of soft tissue within several bones. Some of this tissue has been identified as a medullary tissue, a specialized tissue grown only in modern birds as a source of calcium for the production of eggshell during ovulation. As only female birds lay eggs, medullary tissue is only found naturally in females, although males are capable of producing it when injected with female reproductive hormones like estrogen. This strongly suggests that B-rex was female, and that she died during ovulation. Recent research has shown that medullary tissue is never found in crocodiles, which are thought to be the closest living relatives of dinosaurs, aside from birds. The shared presence of medullary tissue in birds and theropod dinosaurs is further evidence of the close evolutionary relationship between the two.
Like many bipedal dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex was historically depicted as a 'living tripod', with the body at 45 degrees or less from the vertical and the tail dragging along the ground, similar to a kangaroo. This concept dates from Joseph Leidy's 1865 reconstruction of Hadrosaurus, the first to depict a dinosaur in a bipedal posture. In 1915, convinced that the creature stood upright, Henry Fairfield Osborn, former president of the American Museum of Natural History, further reinforced the notion in unveiling the first complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton arranged this way. It stood in an upright pose for 77 years, until it was dismantled in 1992.
By 1970, scientists realized this pose was incorrect and could not have been maintained by a living animal, as it would have resulted in the dislocation or weakening of several joints, including the hips and the articulation between the head and the spinal column. The inaccurate AMNH mount inspired similar depictions in many films and paintings (such as Rudolph Zallinger's famous mural The Age of Reptiles in Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History) until the 1990s, when films such as Jurassic Park introduced a more accurate posture to the general public. Modern representations in museums, art, and film show Tyrannosaurus rex with its body approximately parallel to the ground with the tail extended behind the body to balance the head.
When Tyrannosaurus rex was first discovered, the humerus was the only element of the forelimb known. For the initial mounted skeleton as seen by the public in 1915, Osborn substituted longer, three-fingered forelimbs like those of Allosaurus. A year earlier, Lawrence Lambe described the short, two-fingered forelimbs of the closely related Gorgosaurus. This strongly suggested that Tyrannosaurus rex had similar forelimbs, but this hypothesis was not confirmed until the first complete Tyrannosaurus rex forelimbs were identified in 1989, belonging to MOR 555 (the "Wankel rex"). The remains of Sue also include complete forelimbs. Tyrannosaurus rex arms are very small relative to overall body size, measuring only 1 meter (3.3 ft) long, and some scholars have labelled them as vestigial. The bones show large areas for muscle attachment, indicating considerable strength. This was recognized as early as 1906 by Osborn, who speculated that the forelimbs may have been used to grasp a mate during copulation. It has also been suggested that the forelimbs were used to assist the animal in rising from a prone position.
Another possibility is that the forelimbs held struggling prey while it was killed by the tyrannosaur's enormous jaws. This hypothesis may be supported by biomechanical analysis. Tyrannosaurus rex forelimb bones exhibit extremely thick cortical bone, which has been interpreted as evidence that they were developed to withstand heavy loads. The biceps brachii muscle of an adult Tyrannosaurus rex was capable of lifting 199 kilograms (439 lb) by itself; other muscles such as the brachialis would work along with the biceps to make elbow flexion even more powerful. The M. biceps muscle of T. rex was 3.5 times as powerful as the human equivalent. A Tyrannosaurus rex forearm had a limited range of motion, with the shoulder and elbow joints allowing only 40 and 45 degrees of motion, respectively. In contrast, the same two joints in Deinonychus allow up to 88 and 130 degrees of motion, respectively, while a human arm can rotate 360 degrees at the shoulder and move through 165 degrees at the elbow. The heavy build of the arm bones, strength of the muscles, and limited range of motion may indicate a system evolved to hold fast despite the stresses of a struggling prey animal. In the first detailed scientific description of Tyrannosaurus forelimbs, paleontologists Kenneth Carpenter and Matt Smith dismissed notions that the forelimbs were useless or that Tyrannosaurus rex was an obligate scavenger.
According to one paleontologist, the 1 metre (3.3 ft) arms of Tyrannosaurus rex were used for slashing prey, especially by using its claws to rapidly inflict long, deep gashes to its prey, although this concept is disputed by others believing the arms were used for grasping a sexual partner.
In the March 2005 issue of Science, Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University and colleagues announced the recovery of soft tissue from the marrow cavity of a fossilized leg bone from a Tyrannosaurus rex. The bone had been intentionally, though reluctantly, broken for shipping and then not preserved in the normal manner, specifically because Schweitzer was hoping to test it for soft tissue. Designated as the Museum of the Rockies specimen 1125, or MOR 1125, the dinosaur was previously excavated from the Hell Creek Formation. Flexible, bifurcating blood vessels and fibrous but elastic bone matrix tissue were recognized. In addition, microstructures resembling blood cells were found inside the matrix and vessels. The structures bear resemblance to ostrich blood cells and vessels. Whether an unknown process, distinct from normal fossilization, preserved the material, or the material is original, the researchers do not know, and they are careful not to make any claims about preservation. If it is found to be original material, any surviving proteins may be used as a means of indirectly guessing some of the DNA content of the dinosaurs involved, because each protein is typically created by a specific gene. The absence of previous finds may be the result of people assuming preserved tissue was impossible, therefore not looking. Since the first, two more tyrannosaurs and a hadrosaur have also been found to have such tissue-like structures. Research on some of the tissues involved has suggested that birds are closer relatives to tyrannosaurs than other modern animals.
In studies reported in Science in April 2007, Asara and colleagues concluded that seven traces of collagen proteins detected in purified Tyrannosaurus rex bone most closely match those reported in chickens, followed by frogs and newts. The discovery of proteins from a creature tens of millions of years old, along with similar traces the team found in a mastodon bone at least 160,000 years old, upends the conventional view of fossils and may shift paleontologists' focus from bone hunting to biochemistry. Until these finds, most scientists presumed that fossilization replaced all living tissue with inert minerals. Paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal, who was not part of the studies, called the finds "a milestone", and suggested that dinosaurs could "enter the field of molecular biology and really slingshot paleontology into the modern world".
The presumed soft tissue was called into question by Thomas Kaye of the University of Washington and his co-authors in 2008. They contend that what was really inside the tyrannosaur bone was slimy biofilm created by bacteria that coated the voids once occupied by blood vessels and cells. The researchers found that what previously had been identified as remnants of blood cells, because of the presence of iron, were actually framboids, microscopic mineral spheres bearing iron. They found similar spheres in a variety of other fossils from various periods, including an ammonite. In the ammonite they found the spheres in a place where the iron they contain could not have had any relationship to the presence of blood. Schweitzer has strongly criticized Kaye's claims and argues that there is no reported evidence that biofilms can produce branching, hollow tubes like those noted in her study. San Antonio, Schweitzer and colleagues published an analysis in 2011 of what parts of the collagen had been recovered, finding that it was the inner parts of the collagen coil that had been preserved, as would have been expected from a long period of protein degradation. Other research challenges the identification of soft tissue as biofilm and confirms finding "branching, vessel-like structures" from within fossilized bone.
As of 2014, it is not clear if Tyrannosaurus was endothermic (warm-blooded). Tyrannosaurus, like most dinosaurs, was long thought to have an ectothermic ("cold-blooded") reptilian metabolism. The idea of dinosaur ectothermy was challenged by scientists like Robert T. Bakker and John Ostrom in the early years of the "Dinosaur Renaissance", beginning in the late 1960s. Tyrannosaurus rex itself was claimed to have been endothermic ("warm-blooded"), implying a very active lifestyle. Since then, several paleontologists have sought to determine the ability of Tyrannosaurus to regulate its body temperature. Histological evidence of high growth rates in young Tyrannosaurus rex, comparable to those of mammals and birds, may support the hypothesis of a high metabolism. Growth curves indicate that, as in mammals and birds, Tyrannosaurus rex growth was limited mostly to immature animals, rather than the indeterminate growth seen in most other vertebrates.
Oxygen isotope ratios in fossilized bone are sometimes used to determine the temperature at which the bone was deposited, as the ratio between certain isotopes correlates with temperature. In one specimen, the isotope ratios in bones from different parts of the body indicated a temperature difference of no more than 4 to 5 °C (7 to 9 °F) between the vertebrae of the torso and the tibia of the lower leg. This small temperature range between the body core and the extremities was claimed by paleontologist Reese Barrick and geochemist William Showers to indicate that Tyrannosaurus rex maintained a constant internal body temperature (homeothermy) and that it enjoyed a metabolism somewhere between ectothermic reptiles and endothermic mammals. Other scientists have pointed out that the ratio of oxygen isotopes in the fossils today does not necessarily represent the same ratio in the distant past, and may have been altered during or after fossilization (diagenesis). Barrick and Showers have defended their conclusions in subsequent papers, finding similar results in another theropod dinosaur from a different continent and tens of millions of years earlier in time (Giganotosaurus). Ornithischian dinosaurs also showed evidence of homeothermy, while varanid lizards from the same formation did not. Even if Tyrannosaurus rex does exhibit evidence of homeothermy, it does not necessarily mean that it was endothermic. Such thermoregulation may also be explained by gigantothermy, as in some living sea turtles.
Two isolated fossilized footprints have been tentatively assigned to Tyrannosaurus rex. The first was discovered at Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico, in 1983 by American geologist Charles Pillmore. Originally thought to belong to a hadrosaurid, examination of the footprint revealed a large 'heel' unknown in ornithopod dinosaur tracks, and traces of what may have been a hallux, the dewclaw-like fourth digit of the tyrannosaur foot. The footprint was published as the ichnogenus Tyrannosauripus pillmorei in 1994, by Martin Lockley and Adrian Hunt. Lockley and Hunt suggested that it was very likely the track was made by a Tyrannosaurus rex, which would make it the first known footprint from this species. The track was made in what was once a vegetated wetland mud flat. It measures 83 centimeters (33 in) long by 71 centimeters (28 in) wide.
A second footprint that may have been made by a Tyrannosaurus was first reported in 2007 by British paleontologist Phil Manning, from the Hell Creek Formation of Montana. This second track measures 72 centimeters (28 in) long, shorter than the track described by Lockley and Hunt. Whether or not the track was made by Tyrannosaurus is unclear, though Tyrannosaurus and Nanotyrannus are the only large theropods known to have existed in the Hell Creek Formation.
A set of footprints in Glenrock, Wyoming dating to the Maastrichtian stage of the late cretaceous and hailing from the Lance Formation were described by Scott Persons, Phil Currie et al. in January 2016, and are believed to belong to either a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex or the dubious tyrannosaurid Nanotyrannus lancensis. From measurements and based on the positions of the footprints, the animal was believed to be traveling at a walking speed of around 2.8 to 5 miles per hour and was estimated to have a hip height of 1.56 m (5.1 ft) to 2.06 m (6.8 ft). A follow-up paper appeared in 2017, increasing the speed estimations by 50-80 %.
Scientists have produced a wide range of possible maximum running speeds for Tyrannosaurus, mostly around 11 meters per second (40 km/h; 25 mph), but as low as 5–11 meters per second (18–40 km/h; 11–25 mph) and as high as 20 meters per second (72 km/h; 45 mph). Estimates that Tyrannosaurus had relatively larger leg muscles than any animal alive today indicate that fast running was possible at speeds of 40–70 kilometers per hour (25–43 mph). Researchers have relied on various estimating techniques because, while there are many tracks of large theropods walking, none had the pattern of running.
A 2002 report used a mathematical model (validated by applying it to three living animals: alligators, chickens, and humans; and eight more species, including emus and ostriches) to gauge the leg muscle mass needed for fast running (over 40 km/h or 25 mph). Scientists who think that Tyrannosaurus was able to run point out that hollow bones and other features that would have lightened its body may have kept adult weight to a mere 4.5 metric tons (5.0 short tons) or so, or that other animals like ostriches and horses with long, flexible legs are able to achieve high speeds through slower but longer strides. Proposed top speeds exceeded 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph) for Tyrannosaurus, but were deemed infeasible because they would require exceptional leg muscles of approximately 40–86% of total body mass. Even moderately fast speeds would have required large leg muscles. If the muscle mass was less, only 18 kilometers per hour (11 mph) for walking or jogging would have been possible. Holtz noted that tyrannosaurids and some closely related groups had significantly longer distal hindlimb components (shin plus foot plus toes) relative to the femur length than most other theropods, and that tyrannosaurids and their close relatives had a tightly interlocked metatarsus (foot bones) that more effectively transmitted locomotory forces from the foot to the lower leg than in earlier theropods.
A 2017 study estimated the top running speed of Tyrannosaurus as 17 mph (27 km/h), speculating that Tyrannosaurus exhausted its energy reserves long before reaching top speed, resulting in a parabola-like relationship between size and speed. A 2017 study found that an adult Tyrannosaurus was incapable of running due to high skeletal loads. Using a calculated weight estimate of 7 tons, the model showed that speeds above 11 mph (18 km/h) would have probably shattered the leg bones of Tyrannosaurus. The finding may mean that running was also not possible for other giant theropod dinosaurs like Giganotosaurus, Mapusaurus and Acrocanthosaurus.
Brain and senses
A study conducted by Lawrence Witmer and Ryan Ridgely of Ohio University found that Tyrannosaurus shared the heightened sensory abilities of other coelurosaurs, highlighting relatively rapid and coordinated eye and head movements, as well as an enhanced ability to sense low frequency sounds that would allow tyrannosaurs to track prey movements from long distances and an enhanced sense of smell. A study published by Kent Stevens concluded that Tyrannosaurus had keen vision. By applying modified perimetry to facial reconstructions of several dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus, the study found that Tyrannosaurus had a binocular range of 55 degrees, surpassing that of modern hawks. Stevens also estimated that Tyrannosaurus had 13 times the visual acuity of a human, thereby surpassing the visual acuity of an eagle which is 3.6 times that of a person, and a limiting far point (that is the distance at which an object can be seen as separate from the horizon) as far as 6 km (3.7 mi) away, which is greater than the 1.6 km (1 mi) that a human can see.
Thomas Holtz Jr. would note that high depth perception of Tyrannosaurus may have been due to the prey it had to hunt, noting that it had to hunt horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops, armored dinosaurs such as Ankylosaurus, and the duck-billed dinosaurs and their possibly complex social behaviors. He would suggest that this made precision more crucial for Tyrannosaurus enabling it to, "get in, get that blow in and take it down." In contrast, Acrocanthosaurus had limited depth perception because they hunted large sauropods, which were relatively rare during the time of Tyrannosaurus.
Tyrannosaurus had very large olfactory bulbs and olfactory nerves relative to their brain size, the organs responsible for a heightened sense of smell. This suggests that the sense of smell was highly developed, and implies that tyrannosaurs could detect carcasses by scent alone across great distances. The sense of smell in tyrannosaurs may have been comparable to modern vultures, which use scent to track carcasses for scavenging. Research on the olfactory bulbs has shown that Tyrannosaurus rex had the most highly developed sense of smell of 21 sampled non-avian dinosaur species.
Somewhat unusually among theropods, T. rex had a very long cochlea. The length of the cochlea is often related to hearing acuity, or at least the importance of hearing in behavior, implying that hearing was a particularly important sense to tyrannosaurs. Specifically, data suggests that Tyrannosaurus rex heard best in the low-frequency range, and that low-frequency sounds were an important part of tyrannosaur behavior. A 2017 study by Thomas Carr and colleagues found that the snout of tyrannosaurids was highly sensitive, based on a high number of small openings in the facial bones of the related Daspletosaurus that contained sensory neurons. The study speculated that tyrannosaurs might have used their sensitive snouts to measure the temperature of their nests and to gently pick-up eggs and hatchlings, as seen in modern crocodylians.
A study by Grant R. Hurlburt, Ryan C. Ridgely and Lawrence Witmer obtained estimates for Encephalization Quotients (EQs), based on reptiles and birds, as well as estimates for the ratio of cerebrum to brain mass. The study concluded that Tyrannosaurus had the relatively largest brain of all adult non-avian dinosaurs with the exception of certain small maniraptoriforms (Bambiraptor, Troodon and Ornithomimus). The study found that Tyrannosaurus's relative brain size was still within the range of modern reptiles, being at most 2 standard deviations above the mean of non-avian reptile EQs. The estimates for the ratio of cerebrum mass to brain mass would range from 47.5 to 49.53 percent. According to the study, this is more than the lowest estimates for extant birds (44.6 percent), but still close to the typical ratios of the smallest sexually mature alligators which range from 45.9–47.9 percent.
Most paleontologists accept that Tyrannosaurus was both an active predator and a scavenger like most large carnivores. By far the largest carnivore in its environment, Tyrannosaurus rex was most likely an apex predator, preying upon hadrosaurs, armored herbivores like ceratopsians and ankylosaurs, and possibly sauropods. A study in 2012 by Karl Bates and Peter Falkingham found that Tyrannosaurus had the most powerful bite of any terrestrial animal that has ever lived, finding an adult Tyrannosaurus could have exerted 35,000 to 57,000 N (7,868 to 12,814 lbf) of force in the back teeth. Even higher estimates were made by Mason B. Meers in 2003. This allowed it to crush bones during repetitive biting and fully consume the carcasses of large dinosaurs. Stephan Lautenschlager and colleagues calculated that Tyrannosaurus was capable of a maximum jaw gape of around 80 degrees, a necessary adaptation for a wide range of jaw angles to power the creature's strong bite.
A debate exists about whether Tyrannosaurus was a predator or a pure scavenger; the debate was assessed in a 1917 study by Lambe which argued Tyrannosaurus was a pure scavenger because the Gorgosaurus teeth showed hardly any wear. This argument may not be valid because theropods replaced their teeth quite rapidly. Ever since the first discovery of Tyrannosaurus most scientists have speculated that it was a predator; like modern large predators it would readily scavenge or steal another predator's kill if it had the opportunity.
Paleontologist Jack Horner has been a major proponent of the view that Tyrannosaurus was not a predator at all but instead was exclusively a scavenger. He has put forward arguments in the popular literature to support the pure scavenger hypothesis:
- Tyrannosaur arms are short when compared to other known predators. Horner argues that the arms were too short to make the necessary gripping force to hold on to prey.
- Tyrannosaurs had large olfactory bulbs and olfactory nerves (relative to their brain size). These suggest a highly developed sense of smell which could sniff out carcasses over great distances, as modern vultures do. Research on the olfactory bulbs of dinosaurs has shown that Tyrannosaurus had the most highly developed sense of smell of 21 sampled dinosaurs.
- Tyrannosaur teeth could crush bone, and therefore could extract as much food (bone marrow) as possible from carcass remnants, usually the least nutritious parts. Karen Chin and colleagues have found bone fragments in coprolites (fossilized feces) that they attribute to tyrannosaurs, but point out that a tyrannosaur's teeth were not well adapted to systematically chewing bone like hyenas do to extract marrow.
- Since at least some of Tyrannosaurus's potential prey could move quickly, evidence that it walked instead of ran could indicate that it was a scavenger. On the other hand, recent analyses suggest that Tyrannosaurus, while slower than large modern terrestrial predators, may well have been fast enough to prey on large hadrosaurs and ceratopsians.
Other evidence suggests hunting behavior in Tyrannosaurus. The eye sockets of tyrannosaurs are positioned so that the eyes would point forward, giving them binocular vision slightly better than that of modern hawks. It is not obvious why natural selection would have favored this long-term trend if tyrannosaurs had been pure scavengers, which would not have needed the advanced depth perception that stereoscopic vision provides. In modern animals, binocular vision is found mainly in predators.
A skeleton of the hadrosaurid Edmontosaurus annectens has been described from Montana with healed tyrannosaur-inflicted damage on its tail vertebrae. The fact that the damage seems to have healed suggests that the Edmontosaurus survived a tyrannosaur's attack on a living target, i.e. the tyrannosaur had attempted active predation. There is also evidence for an aggressive interaction between a Triceratops and a Tyrannosaurus in the form of partially healed tyrannosaur tooth marks on a Triceratops brow horn and squamosal (a bone of the neck frill); the bitten horn is also broken, with new bone growth after the break. It is not known what the exact nature of the interaction was, though: either animal could have been the aggressor. Since the Triceratops wounds healed, it is most likely that the Triceratops survived the encounter and managed to overcome the Tyrannosaurus. In a battle against a bull Triceratops, the Triceratops would likely defend itself by inflicting fatal wounds to the Tyrannosaurus using its sharp horns. Studies of Sue found a broken and healed fibula and tail vertebrae, scarred facial bones and a tooth from another Tyrannosaurus embedded in a neck vertebra, providing evidence for aggressive behavior.
Tyrannosaurus may have had infectious saliva used to kill its prey, as proposed by William Abler in 1992. Abler observed that the (tiny protuberances) on the cutting edges of the teeth are closely spaced, enclosing little chambers. These chambers might have trapped pieces of carcass with bacteria, giving Tyrannosaurus a deadly, infectious bite much like the Komodo dragon was thought to have. Jack Horner and Don Lessem, in a 1993 popular book, questioned Abler's hypothesis, arguing that Tyrannosaurus's tooth serrations as more like cubes in shape than the serrations on a Komodo monitor's teeth, which are rounded.:214–215
Tyrannosaurus, and most other theropods, probably primarily processed carcasses with lateral shakes of the head, like crocodilians. The head was not as maneuverable as the skulls of allosauroids, due to flat joints of the neck vertebrae.
One study of Tyrannosaurus specimens with tooth marks in the bones attributable to the same genus was presented as evidence of cannibalism. Tooth marks in the humerus, foot bones and metatarsals, may indicate opportunistic scavenging, rather than wounds caused by combat with another T. rex. Other tyrannosaurids may have practiced cannibalism.
Suggesting that Tyrannosaurus may have been pack animals, Philip J. Currie compared T. rex to related species Tarbosaurus bataar and Albertosaurus sarcophagus, citing fossil evidence that may indicate pack behavior. A find in South Dakota where three T. rex skeletons were in close proximity suggested a pack. Because available prey such as Triceratops and Ankylosaurus had significant defenses, it may have been effective for T. rex to hunt in groups.
Currie's pack-hunting hypothesis has been criticized for not having been peer-reviewed, but rather was discussed in a television interview and book called Dino Gangs. The Currie theory for pack hunting by T. rex is based mainly by analogy to a different species, Tarbosaurus bataar, and that the supposed evidence for pack hunting in T. bataar itself had not yet been peer-reviewed. According to scientists assessing the Dino Gangs program, the evidence for pack hunting in Tarbosaurus and Albertosaurus is weak and based on skeletal remains for which alternate explanations may apply (such as drought or a flood forcing dinosaurs to die together in one place). Fossilized trackways found in northeastern British Columbia, Canada, left by three T. rex heading in the same direction, may also indicate packs.
In 2001, Bruce Rothschild and others published a study examining evidence for stress fractures and tendon avulsions in theropod dinosaurs and the implications for their behavior. Since stress fractures are caused by repeated trauma rather than singular events they are more likely to be caused by regular behavior than other types of injuries. Of the 81 Tyrannosaurus foot bones examined in the study one was found to have a stress fracture, while none of the 10 hand bones were found to have stress fractures. The researchers found tendon avulsions only among Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus. An avulsion injury left a divot on the humerus of Sue the T. rex, apparently located at the origin of the deltoid or teres major muscles. The presence of avulsion injuries being limited to the forelimb and shoulder in both Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus suggests that theropods may have had a musculature more complex than and functionally different from those of birds. The researchers concluded that Sue's tendon avulsion was probably obtained from struggling prey. The presence of stress fractures and tendon avulsions in general provides evidence for a "very active" predation-based diet rather than obligate scavenging.
A 2009 study showed that smooth-edged holes in the skulls of several specimens might have been caused by Trichomonas-like parasites that commonly infect avians. Seriously infected individuals, including "Sue" and MOR 980 ("Peck's Rex"), might therefore have died from starvation after feeding became increasingly difficult. Previously, these holes had been explained by the bacterious bone infection Actinomycosis or by intraspecific attacks.
Evidence of intraspecific attack were found by Joseph Peterson and his colleagues in the juvenile Tyrannosaurus nicknamed Jane. Peterson and his team found that Jane's skull showed healed puncture wounds on the upper jaw and snout which they believe came from another juvenile Tyrannosaurus. Subsequent CT scans of Jane's skull would further confirm the team's hypothesis, showing that the puncture wounds came from a traumatic injury and that there was subsequent healing. The team would also state that Jane's injuries were structurally different from the parasite-induced lesions found in Sue and that Jane's injuries were on her face whereas the parasite that infected Sue caused lesions to the lower jaw.
Tyrannosaurus lived during what is referred to as the Lancian faunal stage (Maastrichtian age) at the end of the Late Cretaceous. Tyrannosaurus ranged from Canada in the north to at least New Mexico in the south of Laramidia. During this time Triceratops was the major herbivore in the northern portion of its range, while the titanosaurian sauropod Alamosaurus "dominated" its southern range. Tyrannosaurus remains have been discovered in different ecosystems, including inland and coastal subtropical, and semi-arid plains.
Several notable Tyrannosaurus remains have been found in the Hell Creek Formation. During the Maastrichtian this area was subtropical, with a warm and humid climate. The flora consisted mostly of angiosperms, but also included trees like dawn redwood (Metasequoia) and Araucaria. Tyrannosaurus shared this ecosystem with Triceratops, related ceratopsians Nedoceratops, Tatankaceratops and Torosaurus, the hadrosaurid Edmontosaurus annectens and possibly a species of Parasaurolophus, the armored dinosaurs Denversaurus, Edmontonia and Ankylosaurus, the dome headed dinosaurs Pachycephalosaurus, Stygimoloch, Sphaerotholus, and Dracorex, the hypsilophodont Thescelosaurus, and the theropods Ornithomimus, Struthiomimus, Orcomimus, Acheroraptor, Dakotaraptor, Richardoestesia, Paronychodon, Pectinodon, and Troodon.
Another formation with tyrannosaur remains is the Lance Formation of Wyoming. This has been interpreted as a bayou environment similar to today's Gulf Coast. The fauna was very similar to Hell Creek, but with Struthiomimus replacing its relative Ornithomimus. The small ceratopsian Leptoceratops also lived in the area.
In its southern range Tyrannosaurus lived alongside the titanosaur Alamosaurus, the ceratopsians Torosaurus, Bravoceratops and Ojoceratops, hadrosaurs which consisted of a species of Edmontosaurus, Kritosaurus and a possible species of Gryposaurus, the nodosaur Glyptodontopelta, the oviraptorid Ojoraptosaurus, possible species of the theropods Troodon and Richardoestesia, and the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus. The region is thought to have been dominated by semi-arid inland plains, following the probable retreat of the Western Interior Seaway as global sea levels fell.
Tyrannosaurus may have also inhabited Mexico's Lomas Coloradas formation in Sonora. Though skeletal evidence is lacking, six shed and broken teeth from the fossil bed have been thoroughly compared with other theropod genera and appear to be identical to those of Tyrannosaurus. If true, the evidence indicates the range of Tyrannosaurus was possibly more extensive than previously believed. It is possible that tyrannosaurs were originally Asian species, migrating to North America before the end of the Cretaceous period.
Since it was first described in 1905, Tyrannosaurus rex has become the most widely recognized dinosaur species in popular culture. It is the only dinosaur that is commonly known to the general public by its full scientific name (binomial name) and the scientific abbreviation T. rex has also come into wide usage. Robert T. Bakker notes this in The Dinosaur Heresies and explains that, “a name like ‘Tyrannosaurus rex’ is just irresistible to the tongue."
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