The T.Rex Debate Continues

February 22, 2011

Brit Trogen


There was never a dinosaur more controversial than the T-Rex; even Philosoraptor can't figure him out. Was he just a hunter, or a scavenger, too? A purist, eating only the flesh of freshly killed herbivores, or an occasional "cadavatarian?" The argument has raged for decades, with recent months adding more fuel to the fire.


According to new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B last month, scavenging "was not a viable option" for T. Rex because smaller, more abundant therapods like Dromaeosauridae (Velociraptors) would likely have outcompeted them for the flesh of dead herbivores. Since most herbivores in existence at the time were also very small (between 55 and 85kg), it would have been difficult for the "tyrant lizard" to rely on them as a reliable food source. In theory.


But even more recently, a census of dinosaur skeletons conducted in Montana tells a different story. In this case, the number of T. Rex skeletons in eastern Montana was surprisingly high; too high, in fact, to be a dinosaur that subsisted only on freshly hunted prey. Anyone who's seen a food pyramid knows that the apex predator up at the top is the least abundant creature in an ecosystem; usually between 1/3 and 1/4 as abundant as their prey. According to the census, the T.Rex remains were almost as plentiful as the remains of the herbivores it was supposedly hunting for food. It's like finding an equal number of lion and gazelle skeletons in the Serengeti.


The most likely explanation, according to the researchers, is that T. rex was an opportunistic hunter - eating live prey when it could, as well as less appealing fare like dead carcasses, and even bones when it's teeth had matured to the adult stage. Opportunistic hunters can be twice as abundant as apex predators (think hyena), so this would make up for the discrepancy. Of course, it's also possible the herbivores had right wing tendencies that discouraged them from participating in the census, but since they're all vegetarian "hippie" dinosaurs that's still quite unlikely.


So what's the answer? One thing is for sure: paleontologists seem incapable of picking up the phone to tell each other about their findings. Let's follow in the path of the raptors, folks! Working together towards a common goal. Until then, the vicious cycle of contradictory research is destined to continue.



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