May
20
2007

This Just In: T. Rex Still Awesome

I am often complimented on the condition and arrangement of my teeth. In particular, I have a very specialized space, or "gap," in between the central incisors of my upper jaw, something frequently admired by friends and strangers alike. This "gap" is a near-perfect adaptation the requirements of my diet - it makes short work of chocolate chip cookies, and I think "evisceration" is the most accurate term to describe its effect on burritos, and other soft food items. It is a source of great personal pride.

However, as they have in so many other ways, the long-dead Tyrannosaurids (the family of the T. Rex) have once again put me to shame.

Comparing CT scans of fossilized Tyrannosaur skulls with those of non-Tyrannosaur theropods (two-legged meat eaters), a group of Canadian scientists have recently shown that "fused, arch-like nasal bones are a unique feature of tyrannosaurids."
Tyrannosaur Nasal Bones: T-rex nasal bones and how they fit onto the skull. (Credit: Dr. Eric Snively, University of Alberta)
Tyrannosaur Nasal Bones: T-rex nasal bones and how they fit onto the skull. (Credit: Dr. Eric Snively, University of Alberta)

What's so special about "fused, arch-like nasal bones" you ask? Everything, says University of Alberta researcher Dr. Eric Snively. Previous estimates for the bite strength of Tyrannosaurids (long assumed to be one of history's top biters, second only to new-metal star Fred Durst) have been so high that the act of biting could have crushed the Tyrannosaur's own head. The fused nasal bones, however, would have allowed a Tyrannosaur to employ the massive strength of its head and neck with out harming itself. Larger theropods, such as the carcharadontosaurus and giganotosaurus, would have been unable to match the skull strength of even a medium sized tyrannosaur.

So where does this now place the T. Rex in the old hunter/scavenger debate? Dr. Snively and the coauthors of this research describe the T. Rex's jaws as a "zoological superweapon." But scavengers often display massive bone-crunching teeth and jaws (check out the archaeotherium and the hyenadont in the SMM's Dino's and Fossils gallery, if you get the chance - both have some impressive jaws, and both were probably at least occasional scavengers. While you're at it, take a look at our moveable T. Rex skull and jaws). Or does this research just plant the T. Rex more firmly in the category of "opportunist?"

Oh, also, here are a couple of fun bits of trivia from ScienceDaily's article:

"In a split second, a T. rex could toss its head at a 45 degree angle and throw a 50kg person five metres in the air. And that's with conservative estimates of the creature's muscle force."

"[Tyrrell museum researchers] showed that a T. rex's lower jaw could apply 200,000 newtons of force--that's like lifting a semi-trailer."

All pretty impressive, I guess, but, still, you should see me tear through a box of Twinkys. Grr.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What "SMM" and where is the gallery! You keep mentioning SMM's gallery but never link to it or even say was "SMM" stands for! I wanted to see the moveable T. rex jaws. :(

posted on Tue, 05/24/2011 - 1:48pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

"SMM" is the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the gallery is the Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery. Science Buzz has contributors from many venues, and some of the content has place-specific references in it. I'm sorry you were disappointed.

posted on Tue, 05/24/2011 - 2:13pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I think this was the first Science Buzz post I ever wrote. And, four years later, you're the first commenter! You and I, sir or ma'am, we have a connection.

Sadly, I've only gotten more cryptic and vague with my references in the last few years. Liza's probably right about what I meant by "SMM," but I can't say for sure. It could be anything, really. Science Museum of Minnesota, sure. Or the Social Media Megacomplex. Or it may simply have been a sibilant murmur of satisfaction. Your guess is as good as mine. Good luck!

PS—Your prize for being the first commenter is in the mail. I hate to ruin the surprise, but it's an SMM.

posted on Tue, 05/24/2011 - 2:37pm

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