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The truth about T. rex
October 23, 2013 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Even one of the best known dinosaurs has kept some secrets. Here is what palaeontologists most want to know about the famous tyrant.
posted by brundlefly (55 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously. Can you tell I have an obsession?
posted by brundlefly at 6:00 PM on October 23, 2013


It's almost like you're trexosexual.
posted by The Whelk at 6:02 PM on October 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


The idea of T Rex with red and yellow feathers leaves me...well...I just don't even know anymore!
posted by kitarra at 6:05 PM on October 23, 2013


Hey, now. I've covered that already.
posted by brundlefly at 6:06 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, it's a fine line between King of the Motherfucking Lizards and Foghorn freaking Leghorn.

My childhood! It was all a lie!
posted by kitarra at 6:08 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Q: Is T. rex still awesome?
A: Yes.

Q: Is triceratops still better?
A: Yes.


Please ask me your dinosaur questions. My ten-year-old self will happily answer any and all of them.
posted by curious nu at 6:08 PM on October 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


- how did they eat popsicles with those tiny little hands
- did they like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain
- who do they think invented calculus, newton or leibniz
- did they get really annoyed when other dinosaurs sang the wrong lyrics to their favourite songs

also how did they do the sex
posted by elizardbits at 6:28 PM on October 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


There are twelve step programs to help with your Rex addiction.
posted by guiseroom at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure it involves cloaca.

Huh. I managed to make it to my thirties without thinking about dinosaur penises.

That was nice while it lasted.
posted by kitarra at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Rex: Not Even Once.
posted by The Whelk at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


How did the biggest dinosaurs get it on?
posted by brundlefly at 6:36 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


ten-year-old curious nu responds:

- how did they eat popsicles with those tiny little hands

There was no ice where T. rex lived so they had no popsicles! Truly, dinosaur times were great AND terrible.

- did they like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain

Because dinosaurs are like birds, they do like getting caught in the rain and also fruit.

- who do they think invented calculus, newton or leibniz

All dinosaurs are fans of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Tyson says Newton, so Newton it is.

- did they get really annoyed when other dinosaurs sang the wrong lyrics to their favourite songs

Everyone does.

also how did they do the sex

I'm only ten, I don't know about this yet.
posted by curious nu at 6:39 PM on October 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


Please ask me your dinosaur questions

Serious questions here:
1. how did the really big ones ever survive? I mean, if I was a dinosaur I'd be small, with extremely sharp teeth. I'd just launch myself at the side of a big sauropod, grab a mouth of flesh and be away two seconds later before it could turn round. Apparently they couldn't even bend their tails very far and just used them for balance. And they had to eat so much their view was obscured by vegetation. Why didn't small, fast sharp dinos eat them for dinner?

1a. I realise that evolution is random and may take a while to fill a niche, but some of these southern continent dinos were wandering around unchanged for fifty million years IIRC. That's a long time to be inefficient.

2. and that size thing. Mammals can't get much bigger than mammoths without collapsing under their own weight, yet the biggest sauropods were like ten times heavier. I realize a different body plan helps, buit surely there are physical limits? And then there's the energy required, again making them slow and susceptible to point 1.

No, I'm not a young earther, but always found this hard to grasp.
posted by EnterTheStory at 6:39 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm only ten, I don't know about this yet.

Swear to you, my son (7, very serious about becoming a paleontologist, oh the stories I could tell you) first learned about "mating" by seeing it in (I think) Walking With Dinosaurs when he was 5. He also knows all about cloaca due to the chickens at camp this summer.

Oh biology, I have such a love/hate relationship with you.

PS: if there are any real, live, working paleontologists on Mefi, can you MeMail me if you'd be willing to direct me to resources to help me help The Boy find out the answers to the questions I can't seem to answer. Current question is about the evolution of feathers, but there will be others.
posted by anastasiav at 6:54 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


How did they play the ukulele?
posted by asperity at 6:56 PM on October 23, 2013


I mean, it's a fine line between King of the Motherfucking Lizards and Foghorn freaking Leghorn.

Clearly you've never seen a chicken. Everyone thinks they're wussy little birds because we eat a ton of them but I can tell you from watching the barn cats get ideas and then get the shit kicked out of them that if you are roughly a chicken's size, that bird will fuck your shit up if you give it the chance. Dumb as a post and mean as a motherfucker, especially the roosters.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:59 PM on October 23, 2013 [20 favorites]


Anyone who thinks birds are not terrifying hellbeasts has clearly never met a goose.
posted by elizardbits at 7:02 PM on October 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


1a. I realise that evolution is random and may take a while to fill a niche, but some of these southern continent dinos were wandering around unchanged for fifty million years IIRC. That's a long time to be inefficient.

Could it be because they were efficient enough?

Also, Horseshoe Crabs haven't changed much in 445 million years. If it ain't broke....
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:05 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. how did the really big ones ever survive? I mean, if I was a dinosaur I'd be small, with extremely sharp teeth. I'd just launch myself at the side of a big sauropod, grab a mouth of flesh and be away two seconds later before it could turn round. Apparently they couldn't even bend their tails very far and just used them for balance. And they had to eat so much their view was obscured by vegetation. Why didn't small, fast sharp dinos eat them for dinner?

Few things hunt fullgrown elephants. Maybe us and some lions, but nothing else. There is no reason to believe that sauropods were any more vulnerable to relatively small predators than elephants are.
posted by Thing at 7:06 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Raccoons don't really throw themselves at Moose either.
posted by The Whelk at 7:08 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


So basically the force required to carve really tough skin is more than a little guy can manage?
posted by EnterTheStory at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2013


Raccoons don't really throw themselves at Moose either.

Although Moose often throw Squirrel.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:14 PM on October 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


So basically the force required to carve really tough skin is more than a little guy can manage?

The real trick was getting to the giant size. Sauropods hatched quite tiny -- some would fit inside a shoebox at birth. Much easier to pick of the young, or ill or injured, than to take on the large ones.
posted by anastasiav at 7:16 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


1. how did the really big ones ever survive? I mean, if I was a dinosaur I'd be small, with extremely sharp teeth. I'd just launch myself at the side of a big sauropod, grab a mouth of flesh and be away two seconds later before it could turn round. Apparently they couldn't even bend their tails very far and just used them for balance. And they had to eat so much their view was obscured by vegetation. Why didn't small, fast sharp dinos eat them for dinner?

I'm guessing if you're small you can be stomped on. If you're big you can get a big old tail to the head.

1a. I realise that evolution is random and may take a while to fill a niche, but some of these southern continent dinos were wandering around unchanged for fifty million years IIRC. That's a long time to be inefficient.

I'm not familiar with the phenomenon you're describing, but I would guess if the dinos of the time were too maladapted they wouldn't have stuck around.

2. and that size thing. Mammals can't get much bigger than mammoths without collapsing under their own weight, yet the biggest sauropods were like ten times heavier. I realize a different body plan helps, buit surely there are physical limits? And then there's the energy required, again making them slow and susceptible to point 1.

"To put it another way, there was no single cause for the observed trend in body size, but rather an intertwined mass of pressures and constraints which shaped the evolution of these dinosaurs—a constant interplay between what was evolutionarily possible and what was advantageous to local conditions at a given time." - Brian Switek, the author of the FPP
posted by brundlefly at 7:20 PM on October 23, 2013


Because nothing spells romance like dinosaur sex.

Or lizard lust, or chicken and crocodile concupiscence.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:22 PM on October 23, 2013


How did the biggest dinosaurs get it on?

Fortunately, we actually have recordings of T. Rex doing just that.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:31 PM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Poultry, generally speaking, are scrappy. Foghorn Leghorn, specifically, mostly bluster. And quite the Romeo.

Don't worry about the feathers. As shown by Strange Interlude's link, T Rex had skin-tight leather pants covering the fluff.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:40 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


- who do they think invented calculus, newton or leibniz

[adds elizardbits as muse]
posted by Songdog at 7:54 PM on October 23, 2013


if there are any real, live, working paleontologists on Mefi, can you MeMail me if you'd be willing to direct me to resources to help me help The Boy find out the answers to the questions I can't seem to answer.

I am not a paleontologist. If you ever get a chance to visit the Houston Museum Natural Science periodically offers a class on dinosaurs for kids taught by Robert Bakker who is one of the most interesting guys I have ever heard speak.
posted by bukvich at 7:54 PM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


So basically the force required to carve really tough skin is more than a little guy can manage?
posted by EnterTheStory at 10:11 PM on October 23
[+] [!]

Also, try taking a bite out of a whole canteloupe some time. If the thing you're biting is too big to get your widdle mouf around, you probably won't eat much of it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:16 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Small predators don't usually seem to attack large animals individually. I suppose a large animal doesn't have much chance of catching a small attacker, but if it does, that attacker is toast. Or jam. Also, it takes a while to bite through skin and flesh - that attacker would have to hold on and gnaw for a bit, which would give its victim more time to respond. Finally, many animals learn hunting behavior from their parents: they imitate the way their parents stalk, or pretend to attack dead or immobilised prey. I don't know how much dinosaur behavior was learnt, but baby dinosaurs wouldn't be able to learn the "run up and snatch a bite" technique by observation, since it would invariably leave a very angry victim in the vicinity, ready to take revenge.

Now, group attacks on large animals, that's a thing. I don't know why swarmers don't displace solitary hunters: maybe they do, and the large predators we see are the ones that are large enough to be dangerous to swarmers, but small enough to be an unreliable food supply.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:21 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like to think that Ankylosaurus was just so badass it made all the small predators think twice about any big ideas. "Maybe if we just stick to things our own size that huge walking tank won't beat us to death with its tail... T-Rex can have that hassle, I'm out."
posted by jason_steakums at 9:28 PM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Truly, dinosaur times were great AND terrible.

In conclusion, dinosaurs lived in a land of contrasts. Thank you.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:56 PM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Raccoons don't really throw themselves at Moose either.

Nah, they leave that to wolverines. Who find it easier when the snow's a meter or two deep.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:18 PM on October 23, 2013


Anyone who thinks birds are not terrifying hellbeasts has clearly never met a goose.

Or a sparrow
posted by e-man at 10:43 PM on October 23, 2013


Since the discoveries of Spinosaurus and Giganotosaurus, T. Rex is no longer considered the biggest carnivorous dinosaur. But coming near the end of the Cretaceous it was the most highly evolved, with a bigger brain, binocular vision, and other evolutionary advances. So it was arguably superior in awesomeness.
posted by e-man at 10:53 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plus Spinosaurus might have been a piscatarian. Seafood is awesome and all, but it doesn't exactly scream "awesome megapredator".
posted by brundlefly at 11:03 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My only question about T. rex is whether or not they were really into stand-hunting from trees! I honestly don't mean to make fun of the Treeosaur guy - he's pretty great and the work he's put into his project is amazing. I wish I could focus on anything as deeply and for as long as he apparently has. As a bonus, his site is also home to one of my favorite images on the internet.
posted by dialetheia at 11:43 PM on October 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Q: Is triceratops still better?
A: Yes.


Q: Is stegosaurus still the best dinosaur ever?
A: Hell yes.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:07 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or a sparrow

I love sparrows. Thank you for drawing this to my attention. I'm so visiting this in 2 weeks when we're back in Vancouver.
posted by arcticseal at 1:09 AM on October 24, 2013


Anyone who thinks birds are not terrifying hellbeasts has clearly never met a goose.

Or even just watched closely as the cute little birdies interact on the feeder. Those are tough, mean, competitive little bastards in a life or death struggle going after your sunflower seeds on a lovely fall afternoon in the suburbs.
posted by aught at 6:01 AM on October 24, 2013


Q: Is stegosaurus still the best dinosaur ever?
A: Hell yes.


This is objectively untrue, because it's too difficult to ride a stegosaurus. A dinosaur you cannot ride isn't that great of a dinosaur, frankly.
posted by curious nu at 6:12 AM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, eveyone knows that ankylosaurus is the coolest. Idiot.
posted by Ned G at 6:52 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the one with the head. Oh pachycephalosaurus you so goofy lookin
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:39 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is objectively untrue

My kid will come for you. "Steggy is the best dino ever!"

Joke I was told upon awakening this morning:

Q: Why did the dinosaur cross the road?
A: Because birds hadn't evolved yet!!

Also, if you're not reading Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs you're missing out.
posted by anastasiav at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


So how come horseshoe crabs survived when all the trilobites died out? Some quirk of biochemistry that let them get through sea changes at the end of the Permian?

Because horseshoe crabs are undoubtedly cool, but trilobites are better.
posted by Devonian at 7:49 AM on October 24, 2013


So how come horseshoe crabs survived when all the trilobites died out? Some quirk of biochemistry that let them get through sea changes at the end of the Permian?

Read this book! It tackles this very question, and the conclusion seems to be "we have no freakin idea and it's totally possible that if some tiny change in circumstances had occurred, we'd have trilobites today."
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2013


1. how did the really big ones ever survive?

The earth was a lot hotter then, which should mean there was more raw energy floating around in the system to potentially sustain large animals. All the energy used to sustain and nurture life is ultimately just heat energy. That's one of the things I've always wondered about when it comes to global warming. Shouldn't it actually be a boon for life on earth, in a certain way? I mean, assuming life on earth can adapt quickly enough to the surpluses of heat energy? I'm not sure that means humans will fare well, given that our population really only started growing and thriving as the earth entered its cooler periods. But theoretically, a warmer planet should have more energy to go around and so should be able to sustain more and/or larger forms of life, I think...
posted by saulgoodman at 8:04 AM on October 24, 2013


And then there is the vexing question of why T. rex had such a massive head and legs but relatively puny arms.

Massive head made it difficult to bench press, so T. rex was into squats. We also know that T. rex loved action films and was a big Vin Diesel fan (T. rex > Tre x > XXX). Like Vin Diesel, T. rex didn't get much grief for enjoying D&D (Dungeon & Dinos).
posted by ersatz at 8:38 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, I did read Wonderful Life when it came out. But that was quite some time ago... I wonder if anyone's come up with something better

Meanwhile, did I miss it or has nobody actually linked to this list of book covers from dino-on-human slashfic?
posted by Devonian at 10:35 AM on October 24, 2013


I'll just leave this here: Dan Telfer on the best dinosaur ever
posted by that's candlepin at 11:30 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: "The earth was a lot hotter then, which should mean there was more raw energy floating around in the system to potentially sustain large animals."

That makes intuitive sense to me, but according to Switek it doesn't match the evidence. Here he is again:
The scientists determined that changes in sauropod body size do not track changes in atmospheric oxygen content, carbon dioxide content or changes in temperature, all of which had been hypothesized as driving sauropod body size. Instead it appears that some traits sauropods inherited from their ancestors, such as swallowing large amounts of food without chewing, allowed the beginnings of increased body size, which was further allowed by the development of evolutionary novelties along the way (i.e. a bird-like breathing system that would have allowed oxygen to be supplied to their bodies more efficiently).
It sounds to me like it isn't that modern tetrapods are incapable of growing to gargantuan size, it's simply that they haven't. It's not like there's a preset path that would lead to increased size, which is cut off for modern animals but extended for dinosaurs. It's just that evolutionary pressures haven't lead to modern tetrapods being big, so far. Or I should say "AS big", because Paraceratherium.

(But I really have no idea.)
posted by brundlefly at 12:17 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bah, plenty of small animals live by taking a bite out of bigger ones. Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes - loads of parasites. You've just got to get the tactics right.

Anyone who thinks birds are not terrifying hellbeasts has clearly never met a goose.

Here in Australia (yes, yes, I know) we have magpies (will attack fully grown humans more or less constantly during nesting season) and butcher birds (will often attack fully grown humans during nesting season, also hunt and kill smaller animals and impale them on small twigs in trees for later consuption, leading to minature Vlad the Impaler displays in otherwise delightful wildnerness. Good photo set here).
posted by Jilder at 8:02 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Woah, I didn't realize that Australia had a completely unrelated bird called a Butcher Bird that impales its prey. Elsewhere shrikes do the same thing, have the same nickname, but are totally a different bird. Shrikes are great because they sometimes impale little bitty bugs on little bitty spikes. Adorable tiny psychopaths.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:19 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


A dinosaur you cannot ride isn't that great of a dinosaur, frankly

Any real dinosaur riding enthusiast will of course be up on the latest trends in irregular shaped back saddles and riding harnesses. I question your committment to Jurrasic Motion.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:42 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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