Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

T. rex more hyena than lion

23.02.2011
Tyrannosaurus rex was an opportunistic feeder, not a top predator, paleontologists say

The ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex has been depicted as the top dog of the Cretaceous, ruthlessly stalking herds of duck-billed dinosaurs and claiming the role of apex predator, much as the lion reigns supreme in the African veld.

But a new census of all dinosaur skeletons unearthed over a large area of eastern Montana shows that Tyrannosaurus was too numerous to have subsisted solely on the dinosaurs it tracked and killed with its scythe-like teeth.

Instead, argue paleontologists John "Jack" Horner from the Museum of the Rockies and Mark B. Goodwin from the University of California, Berkeley, T. rex was probably an opportunistic predator, like the hyena in Africa today, subsisting on both carrion and fresh-killed prey and exploiting a variety of animals, not just large grazers.

"In our census, T. rex came out very high, equivalent in numbers to Edmontosaurus, which many people had thought was its primary prey," said Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., and Regents Professor at Montana State University. "This says that T. rex is not a cheetah, it's not a lion. It's more like a hyena."

"This putative apex predator is as abundant in the upper layers of the Hell Creek Formation as the herbivores, its reputed primary food source," added Goodwin, a curator in UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and assistant director of the museum. "And it's even more plentiful in the other two-thirds of the formation. This supports the view that T. rex benefited from a much wider variety of food sources than live prey."

The dinosaur census in the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, which dates from 65-95 million years ago, was begun in 1999 by Horner and Goodwin with the financial and occasional field support of Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer for Microsoft Corp. and co-founder of Intellectual Ventures of Bellevue, Wash. The results, authored by Horner, Goodwin and Myhrvold, were published Feb. 9 in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Normally, Goodwin said, top predators are one-third or one-fourth as abundant as their prey, because of the larger energy needs of carnivores. Opportunistic hunters like the hyena, however, can be twice as abundant as the top predators.

"If you count the lions and the leopards and the cheetahs in the Serengeti, the number still does not equal the number of hyenas, because hyenas have a much wider food source," Horner said. "Cheetahs, for example, only go after things that are really fast. They don't eat turtles. But a hyena will eat a turtle, or anything else that it can catch or is dead."

Similarly, T. rex was eating anything it could, he said. "There's no evidence that T. rex could run very fast, so it wasn't out there being a cheetah. If it could get a sick animal, it would."

Horner suggests that juvenile and young adult T. rex may have been primarily flesh eaters, while the older adults, which developed proportionally larger, bone-crushing teeth as they aged, also consumed the bones and marrow of their prey.

Horner and Goodwin, together and separately, have been digging for dinosaurs in Eastern Montana for decades. The fossils date from a time when the area bordered an inland sea, which periodically advanced and withdrew over coastal plains, depositing sediment that was later exposed and heavily eroded. When Horner started his census of dinosaurs in the Hell Creek Formation around Fort Peck Lake in 1999, he teamed up with Goodwin to re-examine some of the dinosaurs discovered in the area.

Since then, through lab analysis and annual summer digs, they have shown that one named species, Torosaurus, was just a big, aged Triceratops; two dome-headed dinosaurs, Dracorex and Stygimoloch, were merely younger members of the genus Pachycephalosaurus; and the so-called Nanotyrannus was just a juvenile T. rex.

Once these fossils had been properly identified, Homer and Goodwin were able to catalog the species and relative ages of known dinosaurs in the formation, which is about 100 meters thick at exposed areas covering some 1,000 square kilometers. The census included only skeletal remains, not teeth, because the paleontologists wanted a record of the maturity of each specimen, and teeth tell little about the age of a dinosaur at death, Goodwin said.

Collating only skeletons containing three or more bones, the researchers counted 23 Triceratops, five Tyrannosaurus and five Edmontosaurus within the Upper Hell Creek Formation. The youngest or "upper" formation dates from between 65 and 70 million years ago, just before the purported mass extinction of the dinosaurs that was attributed to a comet or asteroid impact.

A census of older sediments – the lower Hell Creek formation – turned up 11 Triceratops, 11 T. rex and six Edmontosaurus partial skeletons, along with fossil bones of three other dinosaurs: Thescelosaurus and Ornithomimus, two bird-like, bipedal meat-eaters reaching some 12 feet in length at maturity; and Ankylosaurus, an armored, four-legged plant-eater with a club tail.

"Small juveniles and older adults were relatively rare compared to large juveniles and subadults for all the dinosaurs," Goodwin said. This could be explained if juveniles lived in other locations, which is not uncommon in some species. The largest adults may simply have been relatively rare.

"This adds to an emerging picture of what the dinosaur fauna looked like during the late Cretaceous," he said.

Horner noted the greater variety of dinosaurs in the older sediments, the Lower Hell Creek Formation, compared to the younger "Upper" formation.

"Definitely there was a change in population leading up to the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, so something was happening to the faunas prior to the impact," he said. "During the 10 million years after dinosaur diversity peaked 75 million years ago, the dinosaurs dwindled pretty fast, and there weren't many left at the end."

The work was supported by individual donations from James Kinsey, Catherine B. Reynolds and Homer Hickam, as well as Intellectual Ventures, the Windway Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution and the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Arctic melt ponds form when meltwater clogs ice pores
24.01.2017 | University of Utah

nachricht New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Arctic melt ponds form when meltwater clogs ice pores

24.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Synthetic nanoparticles achieve the complexity of protein molecules

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

PPPL physicist uncovers clues to mechanism behind magnetic reconnection

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>