The image of the Tyrannosaurus rex, literally the “tyrant king of lizards”, has changed enormously since its first reconstruction in 1905. The T-rex is undoubtedly one of the most popular dinosaurs, and also one of the most fearsome, in any of the countless works of fiction that have brought them back to life. It is probable that many still imagine the tyrannosaurus as that doll of Toy Story, a green reptile covered in scales, upright on its tail and hind legs, and with visible sharp teeth. However, current representations based on the most recent science show us a very different animal that few would recognize as the T-rex of all life. A new study published this week, which also gives a twist to the classic image, helps us to remember these five not-so-well-known features of the most famous dinosaur.
It had horns and would have liked a touch on the nose
The latest study on the tyrannosaurus is published this week in the magazine Scientific Reports and add interesting news. A team of researchers led by Thomas D. Carr, from Carthage College (USA), has found the remains of a new species of tyrannosaurus, Daspletosaurus horneri, a relative of the nine-meter T-rex, a quarter smaller than its cousin. From the bones, scientists have reconstructed the skull and its likely appearance and features.
The researchers’ conclusion is that the tyrannosaurus had its face covered in large, flat scales, with areas of armored skin on the snout and on the sides of the lower jaw. According to Carr, “the armored skin would have protected the tyrannosaurs from abrasions that they could suffer while hunting or eating.” In addition, behind his eyes he had horns coated in keratin, the protein that makes up our nails. Finally, the authors add that the tyrannosaurus had on its nose an area of skin as sensitive as the tips of our fingers, a characteristic that also occurs in crocodiles.
Did he have lips?
The study led by Carr also states that the tyrannosaurus wore its fierce teeth bared like crocodiles, just as we have always seen it. And if there is something distinctive about the image of the tyrannosaurus, it is that snout riveted by fierce pointed teeth that are visible even when it closes its mouth.
However, not all experts agree. The paleontologist of the University of Toronto (Canada) Robert Reisz supports the hypothesis that the T-rex had lips. According to Reisz, the presence of enamel on her teeth reveals that her teeth needed to be kept hydrated. Otherwise, he says, the enamel dries out and the teeth become brittle. Crocodiles lead an aquatic life, so they don’t have that problem. In land animals, the lips hide the teeth when closing the mouth and saliva keeps enamel moist and resistant.
Obviously there are exceptions to the above, such as the tusks of elephants. But according to US Museum of Natural History paleontologist Zhijie Jack Tseng, the structure of mammalian teeth may be more efficient than reptile teeth at retaining moisture. If we add to this that, according to Reisz, “a substantial portion of the teeth [del T-rex] it would have been covered by the gums ”, the researcher’s conclusion is that“ the teeth would have appeared much smaller in a living animal ”.
He was not upright, but bent over
At the beginning of the 20th century, there was the idea that bipedal dinosaurs were actually tripods: their tails served as a fulcrum to erect their bodies, like kangaroos. This picture was popularized by the reconstruction of the hadrosaur in 1865 by Joseph Leidy and was also adopted for the T-rex when Henry Fairfield Osborn, then president of the US Museum of Natural History in New York, assembled the first skeleton of this animal in 1915. The same scheme spread to other museums of the world and all the representations of the tyrannosaurus.
But over the years, scientists began to realize that this did not add up. In 1970, the British Museum paleontologist Barney Newman, when assembling a skeleton with the parts of two animals, reasoned that the posture designed by Osborn was physically impossible, especially considering that the American had exaggerated the length of the tail. . Newman placed the T-rex with its spine almost parallel to the ground, and concluded in his study that “its gait was lanky like that of a duck, not stately strides as was previously believed.” The saga Jurassic Parkcorrectly portrayed the posture of the tyrannosaurus, but the classic image lives on in the imagination: a 2013 study showed that most students continue to draw it upright like the New York museum specimen; which, by the way, was not dismantled until 1992.
Demolishing the image of the T-rex as a large lizard was a slow process. As early as the 19th century, biologist Thomas Henry Huxley suggested that dinosaurs were more closely related to birds than reptiles and possibly had feathers. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s that new discoveries began to show Huxley was right. In the 90s The first dinosaur fossils with clear feathers were found, and in 2004 it was confirmed that this trait also appeared in close relatives of the T-rex.
The truth is that the presence of feathers has not been directly demonstrated in the tyrannosaurus rex, but the paleontologist Mark Norell put it this way: “we have as much evidence that the T-rex had feathers, at least during some stage of its life, as that australopithecines like Lucy had hair ”. However, this characteristic is reluctant to enter popular culture: the saga Jurassic Park keep clinging to naked dinosaurs.
His arms were small, but herculean
One of the cliches about the tyrannosaurus is that those ridiculous little arms with two fingers were simple flaps that were nothing short of useless. But quite the contrary, since the discovery of the species scientists recognized that the extensive areas of insertion of muscles suggested strong arms, perhaps useful for grabbing your partner during intercourse, Osborn suggested in 1906.
In recent years, research has revealed just how tiny the T-rex’s arms were, but bullies. According to biomechanical studies, their biceps were comparatively 3.5 times more powerful than humans, supporting weights of up to nearly 200 kilos. Given the strength and agility of its arms, a disturbing possibility is that the tyrannosaurus used them to hold its prey while it devoured it, it is supposed to live.
And one last detail that might surprise some fans of Spielberg’s dinosaurs: of course, the T-rex never existed in the Jurassic, but in the later period, the Cretaceous.