I have been fascinated by Dinosaurs for as long as I can remember. (Though you may have guessed that already from my Gravatar profile picture.) I think everyone at some point in their lives is obsessed with Dinosaurs, but thankfully in my case I never grew out of it. With this in mind it shouldn’t come as such of a surprise that I have decided to devote a series of articles to these wonderful creatures called Dinosaur Spotlight, each of which will look at one Dinosaur species in great detail, how it lived, its role in popular culture, such as its history in film and television and other forms of media, and also deconstruct some of the most famous myths about the animal.
Now the first Dinosaur I will be looking at in this series is Tyrannosaurus Rex, by far and away my favourite Dinosaur. I know that is a very unoriginal thing to say. Tyrannosaurus is like the Dinosaur version of a rock star, it is so famous and beloved.
Still the reason for that is because it is just such a spectacular creature. Even its name which means the “Tyrant Lizard King” is as Bob Bakker put it “irresistible to the tongue”.
In this article we will be giving you a few basic facts about Tyrannosaurus Rex that you need to know before we move on to exploring its role in popular culture, the main myths surrounding the tyrant lizard king and its devastating power in later articles.
Tyrannosaurus Rex Overview
Tyrannosaurus Rex lived in North America 68-66 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. It was one of the last Dinosaurs to go extinct, and lived alongside other famous Dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Ankylosaurus as well as numerous Dromeosaurs and even giant Sauropod, (long necked, planet eating) Dinosaurs such as Alamosaurus. Though they are often depicted as enemies in popular culture Tyrannosaurus never lived alongside other more famous long necked Dinosaurs such as Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus or for that matter the famous plated Dinosaur, Stegosaurus.
There is more distance between you and Tyrannosaurus Rex than there is between Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus.
This is less inaccurate
Tyrannosaurus Rex was the undisputed king of its world. It had no rivals and would have preyed primarily on the large Duckbill Dinosaurs, the Hadrosaurs. However it most likely would have preyed upon any large herbivore it could catch and fossil evidence shows that it did hunt the likes of Triceratops, as numerous Tyrannosaur bite marks have been found on Triceratops bones.
Tyrannosaurus belonged to a group of Dinosaurs known as the Tyrannosaurs, who originally began as small meat eating Dinosaurs during the Jurassic era. The Tyrannosaurs were descended from the Coleosaurs, (a group which includes mostly small meat eating Dinosaurs, including both Velociraptor and modern day birds.) Gradually however throughout the Cretaceous period, the Tyrannosaurs evolved to become larger, eventually usurping other large meat eating Dinosaurs families who they drove to extinction by out competing them. By the end of the Cretaceous period, the Tyrannosaurs had become the dominant and largest meat eating Dinosaurs in any areas they occupied.
Among the other members of the Tyrannosaurs family included Tarbosaurus (Tyrannosaurus Baatar), Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Nannotyrannus, and Gorgosaurus.
Due being descended from the Coleosaurs, Tyrannosaurs were more closely related to smaller meat eating Dinosaurs such as the Dromeosaurs (which included the famous Velociraptor). They had nothing in common with other larger meat eating Dinosaurs such as Allosaurus or Giganotsaurus, despite superficially having a similar body plan of a large head and small arms. The Tyrannosaurs were actually much more closely related to modern day birds than to other large meat eating Dinosaurs too, and DNA supposedly extracted from a Tyrannosaurus skeleton proved to be similar to Ostrichs and Chickens.
It is also believed that early small Tyrannosaurs even had feathers, though there is currently no evidence that any larger Tyrannosaurs would have been covered in feathers, which actually could have proved problematic for such a larger creature being covered in insulation as it may have caused it to become over heated.
Still despite this it is also known that the brains of Tyrannosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus Rex were far more similar to modern day Alligators. Tyrannosaurus’s brain was almost identical to an Alligator in fact and therefore in terms of behaviour if we can compare the Tyrannosaurus to any animal alive today then it would be to an Alligator rather than to any avian.
Crocodillians like Alligators and modern Crocodiles are not Dinosaurs, but they are related to them as they belong to the same group of reptiles, the Archosaurs.
It is not known why the Tyrannosaurs unlike their relatives such as the Dromesosaurs and the birds grew to be so massive, but whatever the reason they went over the course of several million years from tiny bird like creatures to massive behemoths who were the undisputed apex predators of their environments.
Tyrannosaurus Rex however was by far and away the largest of all the Tyrannosaurs. It was over 40 feet long, 18 feet tall at the shoulder and could reach a maximum weight of 10 tones. It was longer, taller, and heavier than any land animal alive today.
It was believed for almost 100 years to have been the largest meat eating Dinosaur and the largest land based predator ever to have lived on the planet. Now however we know that there were 3 meat eating Dinosaurs, Spinosaurus, Giganotosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus that were all larger than Tyrannosaurus. All of these Dinosaurs lived at different times to Tyrannosaurus and would have never met it in real life.
Tyrannosaurus is believed to have been the most intelligent of the large meat eating dinosaurs and may have looked after its young. Evidence for this comes from an adult Tyrannosaurus found near the body of an infant, but whether they lived together or simply died together is not known for sure. The first T. rex was first discovered in the year 1902 by Barnum Brown who was nicknamed “Mr Bones” because he had discovered so many Dinosaur bones. It was originally named Dynamosaurus Imperiosus by Henry Fairfield Osborn. Dynamosaurus Imperiosus means “Powerful, mighty lizard”. Fortunately even though Dynamosaurus is quite a powerful and majestic name, Osborn would ultimately christen it Tyrannosaurus Rex, “The Tyrant Lizard King” which is subsequently the only full Dinosaur name known to the general public. Triceratops’s full name for instance is actually Triceratops Horridus, but most people only know its first name.
Osborn declared that Tyrannosaurus was deserving of its title as it was the supreme fighter in the animal kingdom.
“Tyrannosaurus is the most superb carnivorous mechanism among the terrestrial vertebrata in which raptorial power and speed are combined.”
In the following articles we will see how Osborn was 100 percent correct in his assessment of the rightfully named King of the Dinosaurs.
Finally it is worth noting that original reconstructions of Tyrannosaurus, depicted it as standing upright like a tripod as this wonderful painting below from Charles R Knight depicts.
After the link between Dinosaurs and birds was firmly established however, subsequent depictions of Tyrannosaurus Rex generally tend to show it in a more bird like stance.
Next up a look at the devastating power of Tyrannosaurus Rex.