"Mighty" T. Rex Mostly Picked Off Youngsters?

August 11, 2009

A mighty hunter has fallen—at least in the eyes of countless kids who admire the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.

Contrary to depictions in films, in books, and with plastic toys on the living room rug, T. rex and its large predatory kin very rarely attacked full-grown adult dinosaurs, a new study says.

Instead the famed carnivore was most likely a dinosaur bully, picking off defenseless youngsters.

"Several aspects of the supposed lifestyle of these animals didn't fit with what we knew about the behavior of modern predators," noted study co-author David Hone of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.

"The titanic fights often depicted were in conflict with the normal style of predation in large predatory mammals, such as lions and tigers, which usually go for the weak and inexperienced."

No Bones About It

The proof lies in markings found on fossil bones from prey animals, according to Hone and co-author Oliver Rauhut, of Ludwig Maximilians Universität in Munich, Germany.

The pair analyzed previous studies of dinosaur bones found around the world.

The fossils belonged to species that lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, which together span 199 to 65 million years ago.

Predators that had died with meals preserved in their stomachs usually contained just a handful of their prey's bones, Hone and Rauhut report in their paper, which was published online August 3 in the journal Lethaia.

(Related: "'Cannibal' Dinosaur Wrongly Accused, Study Says.")

The prey bones that were found came from young dinosaurs and rarely showed any bite marks. That's because juvenile bones were most likely swallowed whole, since they were softer than adult bones and more easily dissolved in stomach acids.

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