It’s the late Cretaceous. North America is divided in two and Europe is just a bunch of islands. There’s a massive asteroid on a collision course with the planet, but what does Tyrannosaurus rex care? It’s the king of the tyrant lizards and the vast plains of what will become the American Midwest are its hunting grounds.
It has reason to feel pleased with itself; after humble, horse-sized and not terribly tyrannical beginnings in the Jurassic period 100 million years prior, evolution has been very kind. Let’s start with that massive head.
What really leaps out at you about a T. rex skull is the teeth. They’re as long as your forearm, made for making short work of meat. Sirloin? Chuck steak? Ribs? All were one to the T. rex, its massive maw tearing through flesh and bone indiscriminately.
T. rex’s gnashers were backed up by jaws that could deliver the strongest bite of any land animal that ever lived. Imagine being sat on by a medium-sized elephant. Now imagine that force being concentrated on the points of those teeth. Omnomnom.\
If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, you’ll recall Sam Neill’s character advising “It can’t see us if we don’t move!” as the T. rex closes in. He and the cute children thus go uneaten. Sadly for Sam and his charges, the real T. rex had excellent vision, possibly better than our own, and without an airstrike or Willy Apiata to help him, he’d have been destined for T. rex’s tummy.
Yet despite this unparalleled arsenal of predation – and we’ve not even considered its massive legs that could propel it at 30km/h – it wasn’t until recently that we were sure it hunted at all. Until then, all we could say for sure was that it ate other dinosaurs
Ironically, this knowledge is only thanks to “the one that got away”. A dinosaur tail bone with a T. rex tooth in it was found in 2007. That by itself would not have told us much. But the bone had healed around the tooth, proving that T. rex had attacked live prey. Escaping by the skin of someone else’s teeth works just as well as your own.
Finally, while T rex’s tiny arms may not look like winners at the prehistoric gun show, especially in comparison to all its body’s metres of solid muscle, consider that each one could lift 200kg. You try bench-pressing that with one hand!
Meet Tyrannosaurus rex up close and personal at Dinosaur Encounter, open at Te Manawa until 26 February. Hail to the king, baby.
The 3/4 size Tyrannosaurus Rex is sponsored by Broadway Radiology, while its 3/5 size cousin is supported by E-Tech.
Rob Mildon has written for Te Manawa for 65 million years.