What Did T. Rex Have for Dinner? New Study Says: Fresh Meat

By Patrick Morgan | January 26, 2011 4:40 pm

Clunky, clumsy, and slow–these are the words that some scientists have associated with Tyrannosaurus rex in the past decade, using these physical traits as evidence that it was more of a scavenger than a hunter. But another group of researchers has held to the notion of T. rex as a fierce predator worthy of the name “tyrant lizard king.” It’s a debate that just won’t go extinct, and this week brings an interesting new argument for the predator position.

In the past several years, scientists have pointed out that T. rex had small eyes and a good sense of smell, and have argued this as evidence that it was a scavenger.

The first broadside on the carnivore’s predatory credentials came in 2003, when American expert Jack Horner concluded that T. rex’s clawless forearms, beady eyes and lumbering legs meant it was “100 percent scavenger.” [Brisbane Times]

But in the new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers note that even predators have good smelling abilities, and declare that T. rex‘s eyes aren’t nearly as bad as scientists thought they were–after all, they do have binocular vision. But these observations weren’t the main part of his research. Says coauthor Chris Carbone:

“We took an ecosystem approach, establishing a complete list of all the species in the area,” he explained by phone…. “What is novel is that we make inferences about abundance from the size of the animals” in the Late Cretaceous, he said, referring to the period 85 to 65 million years ago when T. rex reigned supreme. [Brisbane Times]

And it appears that when the whole ecosystem is considered, T. rex doesn’t seem such a likely scavenger:

“By understanding the ecological forces at work, we have been able to show that scavenging was not a viable option for T.rex as it was out-competed by smaller, more abundant predatory dinosaurs,” said Dr Chris Carbone…. “These smaller species would have discovered carcasses more quickly, making the most of ‘first-come-first-served’ opportunities.” [ANI]

In other words, Carbone argues that T. rex would have been out-scavenged by the knee-high dinosaurs–which implies that hunting was the better option and that the king of the dinosaurs hasn’t lost his crown.

Related Content:
80beats: Bone Bite Marks Suggest That T. Rex Dabbled in Cannibalism
80beats: Yes, T. Rex Had a Bad-Ass Sniffer. But Was It a Bad-Ass Hunter?
80beats: Tiny Skull Shows a Dino in Transition to Vegetarianism
80beats: Duck-Billed Dinosaur Grew Up Fast in a Race Against Its Grim Reaper: T. Rex
DISCOVER: Chomp Champ on recreating a T. rex bite

Image: flickr / cotaroba

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    It seems to me that scavengers are smaller than predators, so show me the big guy!

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