Tyrannosaurus Controversies Part 2

Come and get me bastard, I’ll outrun you!

This post is a continuation of Tyrannosaurus Controversies Part 1. The debates about Tyrannosaurus go far beyond feathers and feeding strategies. They include much more obvious and down to Earth issues. As always, feel free to add your comments, questions,  or opinions below.

Locomotion: The controversy here revolves around the speed that Tyrannosaurus could have run. While at first seeming to be fairly arbitrary, this is very important to our understanding of the creature. Whether Tyrannosaurus individuals could move at higher speeds could be the key to determining the species’ status as predators or scavengers.

Those who believe Tyrannosaurus could have run point to evidence which ties it to modern birds. Ostriches, known for speed, share similarities with the dinosaur including hollow bones and long legs. While the Ostrich does not make quick movements with its legs, it is able to reach high speeds through longer strides. There is a possibility that Tyrannosaurus could have done the same. Estimates for an individual’s speed vary between these scientists, but are estimated between 25 to 40 mph. They also argue that the metatarsus of the creature was more advanced than those of other dinosaurs, transferring pressure into the lower leg. This would allow an individual to move faster; possibly run.

The argument against the theory above is more practical. Skeptics point out that while there is an abundance of Tyrannosaur (and Theropod) footprints have been found, none have shown significant distance between prints to suggest fast movement. A similar argument was used to disprove the theory that dinosaurs stood upright.

Note how the animal’s tail drags on the ground.

 If Tyrannosaurus (or any other dinosaur) walked like this, then why weren’t there tail dragging marks by the footprints? The answer, of course, is that they didn’t drag their tails. Similarly, some paleontologists today believe that the lack of footprints leaves an obvious conclusion to the issue. In addition, estimates in the late 90’s showed that Tyrannosaurus legs may have been no stronger than those of Elephants, which cannot run themselves. Another experiment a couple of years earlier seemed to show that even if the animal could move at speeds over 25 mph, a fall would either kill the animal on impact, or shatter enough bones that it would never get back up.

The debate is one that continues today. There are still no conclusions and further studies are being performed to  determine the answer.

The Arms: With a body the weight of six elephants and longer than a school bus, the arms of the monster are just plain hilarious.

But, what were the purpose of such seemingly useless limbs? Despite their small size, they are known to have contained huge muscles and would have been quite strong. One must also remember that size is in context to body mass. In reality, they were up to 3.3 feet long. This has led scientists to a multitude of possible theories. These include, but are not limited to: grasping during sexual intercourse, holding onto prey, and rising from a sleeping position. Some scientists have also suggested that they had no purpose and within another 20 million years would be gone completely from the evolved versions of the species. Whatever the case, its hilarious.

Admin. Simon

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Indricotherium (Indrik Beast)

Size comparison of an Indricotherium and a modern Rhino.

An Indricotherium would have been a sight to behold… But before all that, I should probably answer the question on your mind. “What the hell is an Indrik?” Unless you live in Russia, chances are you don’t know. As Wikipedia puts it, an Indrik in Russian Folklore is “a fabulous beast, the king of all animals, who lives on a mountain known as ‘The Holy Mountain’ where no other foot may tread. When it stirs, the Earth trembles. The word ‘Indrik’ is a distorted version of the Russian word edinorog (unicorn).The Indrik is described as a gigantic bull with legs of a deer, the head of a horse and an enormous horn in its snout, making it vaguely similar to a rhinoceros. The Russian folklore creature gives its name to Indricotherium, the biggest land mammal ever to live.”

Indricotherium (sometimes known as Paraceratherium) was the largest of all land mammals. It lived in the Oligocene epoch of the Paleogene Period, which extended from approximately 34 million to 23 million years before modern day. Being a tall herbivore it used its height to browse through a selection of tall tree leaves. Coming in at 18 tons, the animal was related to the Rhinoceros, but looked much more like a massive Giraffe. This size was its main defense and they needed it with ferocious carnivores prowling the region.

Seriously, this thing was HUGE!

If you’d like to know more about this fantastic animal feel free to watch the clip below from the series Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. BBC made the series about the Cenozoic and episode 3 focused mainly on the Indricotherium. Be warned however that the creators of this series took many liberties when designing the plot and much the information is inferred from the behavior of modern mammals.

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Spinosaurus (Spine Lizard)

An Artists interpretation

If you know even a little bit about dinosaurs, chances are you’ve heard of this beast. It was discovered in Egypt during WWI by Ernst Stromer, a German paleontologist. However until fairly recently, scientists didn’t know too much about the animal. The original remains were destroyed in WWII and it wasn’t rediscovered until 1996, which allowed other carnivorous dinosaurs (AKA Tyrannosaurus Rex) to take the spotlight. However, its 2001 appearance in Jurassic Park 3 helped to draw it into popular culture. Throughout the last ten years since the movie, there have been multiple documentaries featuring the animal and it has quickly become one of the most recognizable dinosaurs.

An image for Jurassic Park III

Why is Spinosaurus such a popular dinosaur? Well for starters, its debatably the largest of all carnivorous dinosaurs. As you can see below, it is significantly longer and taller than its competitors.

Spinosaurus is on the far left and T. Rex is on the far right.

However, the prize for largest carnivore is mass based and its hard to predict weight based solely on fossils. So the juries still out on that. Nevertheless, its definitely not a creature you’d want to meet without some serious armaments. The creature was between 7 and 23 tons and up to 60 feet in length.  It lived on both water and land, making it suitable to prey on many different food groups from fish to other dinosaurs.

The most interesting part of the animal is the sail or spine, for which it owes its name to. The function of the sail is still debated. Some paleontologists believe that it was used to control body temperature. If the creature overheated it would pump blood into the sail. The sail would then cool the blood which traveled back into the body. It could also be used to heat a Spinosaurus up in much the same way, using sun rays to heat the blood in the sail. Another hypothesis is that it was used for display. Again blood could be pumped into the sail to create a vibrant decoration (think Peacock) which would attract mates.

Spinosaurs were among the deadliest and most interesting dinosaurs to walk this planet and they have a special place in paleontology as one of the most recognizable dinosaurs around. If you’d like, watch this exaggerated video of a Spinosaurus hunt. It is from a Discovery Channel show called Monsters Resurrected.

Admin. Simon

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Archaeopteryx (Ancient Feather)

So important its the cover picture of this blog

In 1862 as the Civil War began in the United States, a German man by the name of  Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer made one of the most important discoveries in all of paleontology. He had discovered the first bird, Archaeopteryx. This discovery proved that  birds were indeed the direct descendants of dinosaurs and became important proof for Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Since 1861, ten more fossils of the creature have been unearthed giving scientists great insight into the origin of birds and Archaeopteryx itself.

Despite its status as the first bird, don’t get fooled into thinking it was similar to birds today. Firstly, it had no beak. Instead, lining the inside of its mouth were sharp dinosaur teeth. Also unlike modern birds, on its wings were three fingers with claws and its feet were armed with raptor like hyper-extensible toes. These toes are often referred to as “killing claws”. Make no mistake, an attack from one of these things would hurt.

However, the creature was not entirely dinosaur either. It of course had feathers and wings, but these were not unknown to the dinosaur world. Sinosauropteryx for example had feathers and Microraptor had wings. What makes Archaeopteryx  different from those two is the way its feathers are built. Known as flight feathers, the species could use its A-symmetric design to generate lift and leave the ground by the power of flapping. In comparison, Microraptor could only glide by climbing trees.

Archaeopteryx lived in a Europe very different form today. During the late Jurassic, the continent was a group a islands near the equator. The species evolved around 150 million years ago and was fairly short lived. It would die off in just 2 million years. And yet, the small period of time in which it lived was greatly important to our understanding of dinosaurs and the natural world itself.

Admin. Simon

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Another Allosaur Attack

While you wait for Tyrannosaurus Controversies Part 2, watch another Walking With Dinosaur clip. This one also depicts an Allosaurus attack. This video footage in this clip belongs to BBC.

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Tyrannosaurus Controversies Part 1

Tyrannosaurus is one of the most well known Dinosaurs and over the years certain images and expectations of the beast have been ingrained into the public psyche. The way many view this animal (probably including you) is as a huge, leathery, fast, killing machine. But what if I were to tell you that instead, the king was in fact a slow, feathered scavenger. Not the image you probably had in mind, right? As paleontology has progressed, many theories have come about involving the Tyrant King and they have started some of the oldest debates in scientific history. We’ll break it down for you and you can choose which side your on. Your more than welcome to leave your opinions for all to see in comments.

T. Rex

A big vulture?

Predator vs Scavenger: The oldest of all Tyrannosaur debates that still continues today.  Was the huge creature the apex predator of its environment? Or was it a scavenger relying on a good sense of smell?

Those who argue that Tyrannosaurus was a predator, point out features of the creature. It has binocular eyes that face forward. This may have given it better eyesight than modern hawks. At least among modern animals, binocular vision is a sign of predator. Fossil evidence may also provide clues. Edmontosaurus fossils have been found with Tyrannosaur bite mark that appear to have healed. This indicated it was bitten while alive and escaped, proof that a Tyrannosaur must have been hunting. Similar evidence was found on a Triceratops fossil which appeared to have healed Tyrannosaur bite marks.

However the evidence that Tyrannosaurus was a scavenger are significant as well. Some argue that the animals short and stubby arms were too small to hold prey. Others say that the animal had a highly developed sense of smell, useful for scavenging and that terrestrial animals would fill in the niche birds like vultures currently hold. It has also been shown that Tyrannosaurs may have been to slow to catch fast moving Hadrosaur prey which appears to be the larger part of its diet. In addition, it would have been difficult for such a large creature to stalk prey in the first place.

Most scientists now believe that Tyrannosaurus was probably an opportunist. Which is to say that it would hunt for prey whenever necessary, but would be more than happy to scavenge. Despite this there are many notable paleontologists who disagree and argue that it was one or the other.

Feather Debate: For regular viewers of this blog, the name Yutyrannus might ring a bell. A few updates back this dinosaur was featured around when it was discovered. A close relative of Tyrannosaurus, it had been found with feathers. Other Tyrannosauroids have been found with protofeathers (similar to the fluff found on baby birds today). This has led notable paleontologists to come to the conclusion that Tyrannosaurus looked less like this

and perhaps more like this.

Even if adults didn’t have feathers, many believe hatch-lings may have, similarly to how baby birds today have protofeather fluff.

Admin. Simon

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Allosaurus Hunt

An accurate depiction of what an Allosaurus hunt may have looked like. The video draws on modern day studies of carnivorous animals and fossil evidence. This video is part of the Walking with Dinosaurs series and was a special titled The Ballad of Big Al.

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Eoraptor (Dawn Plunderer)

Eoraptor

The Dawn Plunderer Himself

Discovered only recently in 1993 in Argentina, Eoraptor was among the very earliest and most primitive dinosaurs. It lived close to 230 million years ago in the late Triassic period and is the oldest know dinosaur with the exception of some prosauropods in Madagascar. Scientists are still unsure if Eoraptor belongs with prosauropods (The bipedal ancestors of Sauropods like Diplodocus) or theropods (The ancestors of almost all meat eating dinosaurs and birds) by looking at its fossils. Also confusing the matter is that Eoraptor was probably omnivorous as scientists have judged by looking at its teeth.

Despite being called a “raptor” it is only distantly related to the famous animals and is 60 million years older than the group, only named such because of its latin meaning (Thief or plunderer). Also unlike its namesakes, it didn’t hunt large prey. The top predators were still lumbering mammal-like-reptiles and the small and unspecialized Eoraptor probably targeted small mammals (also fairly new arrivals) and lizards.

Earth in the Late Triassic

Earth in the Late Triassic

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Woolly Mammoth

Somme River crossed by Mammoths

Woolly Mammoths Cross the Somme

What’s the first image that comes to mind when I say “Ice Age”? You probably think of furry elephants roaming a tundra or forest in search of food. Your thinking of course, of the Woolly Mammoth; just about the most recognizable animal of the last ice age. Already an iconic creature, popular media and recent scientific discoveries have further entrenched this being into society. In fact, I’m willing to bet that many of the blog’s viewers thought of Manny the Mammoth from the Ice Age movies. While real Woolly Mammoths didn’t talk or make friends with meat eating predators, they were highly social, and like elephants today, they traveled in herds. Also like elephants, they were highly protective of  herd-mates and would protect children from attacks by predators such as cave lions, which were up to 25% larger than their modern African relatives. With such fierce animals roaming the tundra and plains of Siberia and much of the northern continents, not to mention the cold climate, they had to be big and strong.

Similarly sized to modern elephants, although looking much bigger in part due to their larger tusks and heavy coat of hair, the animals had some notable differences to their African sister species. First of all is the coat of fur which kept them warm and protected from the cold during the excessively long winter. In addition to the coat, mammoth skin exuded grease which helped to increase the hair’s ability to insulate. The tusks of the animal were also larger and may have been used to clear snow and rest their trunk.

The great beasts probably went extinct around the late Holocene, although a small population survived on Wrangel Island in Northern Siberia until 1700 BC. Greatly decreasing habitat at the end of the last Ice Age limited their numbers and human hunting probably drove them to extinction.

Despite this calamity, modern scientists can still study the animals to a certain extent. Because many froze to death, their skin and bones were preserved in the ice allowing for the possibility of DNA extraction similar to the premise of Jurassic Park. With enough, scientists may be able to insert the DNA into an Indian elephant’s embryo (using elephant DNA to fill in the gaps) and recreate a Mammoth. Some hypothesize it would be able to interbreed with other elephants and a stable population could be created in the distant future. Whatever happens, the Mammoth will forever stay an iconic animal of prehistory.

Admin.Simon

Lyuba

A frozen juvenile Mammoth found in Siberia

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Tyrannosaurus Rex (Tyrant Lizard King)

Tyrant King

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Tyrannosaurus Rex; perhaps the greatest known of all the dinosaurs and infamous as their king. Despite this title, Tyrannosaurus was not the largest theropod dinosaurs and is known to be smaller than other meat devouring dinosaurs such as Spinosaurus, Charcharodontosaurus, and Giganotosaurus. While it may not be the heaviest, tallest, or longest of its distant family, it was still a massive creature no animal would wish to contend with. The largest Tyrannosaurus ever fond, Sue, Came in at 42 feet long (12.8 meters), 13 feet tall (4 meters), and weighed 7.5  short tons. To put that in perspective, Sue was longer than a school bus, taller than a story, and had a weight equal to more than six elephants.

The apex predators of their time, 67 – 65 million years ago, they far outweighed and out-sized all other predators in the world. The creatures lived on the continent of Laramidia, which included the western US and was separated from the rest of the North America by the Western Interior Seaway. The massive animals were warm-blooded and needed to eat quite often and subsequently hunted Hadrosaurs and Ceratopsians, such as Triceratops (although some paleontologists argue it may have exclusively been a scavenger).

This hunter/scavenger debate is only one of many about Tyrannosaurus. Others include the speed and gait, the use of its relatively tiny arms, whether it had feathers, and its relation to the Asian Tyrannosauridae, Tarbosaurus. While I could explain the debates and the various sides and opinions here, look for a separate page labeled, Tyrannosaurus Controversies, sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, read up on these various paleontological debates here and comment on what your opinion is!

Admin. Ravi

North America in the Cretaceous

North America in the Cretaceous

 

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