Aug
25
2007

Man, the T. Rex is so great. Who wouldn’t want to read about the T. Rex?

Just out for a jog: Can you run at 18 mph?  (photo by mcdlttx on flickr.com)
Just out for a jog: Can you run at 18 mph? (photo by mcdlttx on flickr.com)
For the younger Science Buzz readers – it’s very important that you understand how cool the Tyrannosaurus Rex is. Super cool. The adults reading this, of course, already know this fact. It’s one of those things you just pick up, and it sticks with you – like riding a bike, or what it feels like to be hungover. You never forget.

However, kids, as you go through your little lives, you will also occasionally encounter those doubting Thomases and sassy Williams who will try to lead you astray, who will try to tell you that the Tyrannosaurus Rex did not, in fact, evolve with the sole purpose of being a reptilian Fonzie. Ignore them! (The major difference between the tyrannosaur species and Arthur Fonzarelli is a simple lack of thumbs. This is barely enough to scientifically distinguish the two.)

These doubters and killjoys will tell you, among other things, that the lizard king was not a running, hunting, killing machine, but more of a flat-tired Cretaceous garbage truck – a scavenger, not a hunter. Part of this argument has to do with dinosaur’s velocity; to be a successful hunter, the T. Rex would have to be able achieve a decent top-speed, if only for a short while. In Jurassic Park, you might remember, the T. Rex was shown galloping along at about 30 mph. The joyless haters have argued that for the tyrannosaurus to reach anything like this speed, the majority of its body mass would have had to have been in its leg muscles, which was almost certainly not the case. The Rex, they say, would more likely have lumbered around looking for already-dead animals to feast off of.

This argument, however, is modeled on the body structure of extant bipedal animals (like flightless birds). Scientists at the University of Manchester have pointed out that the tyrannosaurs weren’t really built like the bipedal animals living today, and have recently developed a new and probably more accurate method of measuring their top speed.

The Manchester researchers developed a computer program that uses the given muscle and bone structure of an animal, and slowly works out the creature’s optimum movement patterns and top speed. They fed data for five dinosaur species (including the T. Rex), as well as that of several existing bipedal animals, into their supercomputer. The scientists had to make an educated guess as to the muscle strength and density of the dinosaurs, but used the same modeling techniques for the dinosaurs as they did for the living animals.

The computer took about a week to work out what each animal’s optimum running gait and posture would be, but finally yielded some interesting results. According to the program, an athletic human’s top speed should be about 18 mph, and an ostrich’s about 35 mph. Both of these are pretty accurate, if just slightly on the slow side (Some Olympic track and field athletes can reach about 29, and ostriches can get to about 40). For the dinosaurs, they found that the famous velociraptor could probably reach about 24 mph, the compsognathus 40 (pretty good for such a little guy), an allosaurus 21, and that the tyrannosaurus rex could do about 18 mph.

18 mph. I think that’s pretty respectable. More than respectable, actually - it’s cool. I mean, I’m fairly cool, and I can’t run 18 mph. And while I’m willing to cede that the tyrannosaurus might have scavenged as the opportunity presented itself, I think 18 mph is more than enough to ambush a hadrosaur or triceratops now and again. At the very least. Also, let’s not be too judgmental over the whole scavenging thing. Who doesn’t, really? I ate half of a potato chip off of my floor this morning. Does that make me a scavenger? No, it makes me an efficient consumer. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not a hunter. Come to my neighborhood and count the rats, and we’ll see who’s a hunter.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

T-rex are the best dino ever.who doesnt like them.

posted on Fri, 01/04/2008 - 4:00pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

You know who doesn't like the T-Rex? Maniacs. Maniacs and perverts.

posted on Sat, 01/05/2008 - 2:28am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I'm sure Triceratops, Anatotitans, Ankylosaurs, Maiasaurs and Corythosaurs don't like T-rex, too. Since he probably ate most of them.

posted on Sat, 01/05/2008 - 12:29pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Maybe, but I like to think of the late Cretaceous as being kind of like that sequence in the Lion King where all the animals get together and sing, even though they should have been killing and eating each other. The circle of life.

posted on Sat, 01/05/2008 - 2:44pm
Ahus1102's picture
Ahus1102 says:

Wow it looks like a real dinosour.

posted on Sat, 11/01/2008 - 7:10pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i thought the dino exzibit was amazing this is my frist time here and i love this place already....im coming back tomorrow!

posted on Fri, 11/07/2008 - 7:55pm

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