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T. rex’s reputation restored

By From page A6 | July 25, 2013

The issue: Turns out it was really scary, after all

The pyramid of really scary creatures has been restored to its natural hierarchy and once again Tyrannosaurus rex is back at the top.

The huge, meat-eating T. rex, all 40 feet and seven tons of him, was long thought of as the baddest dinosaur of the Cretaceous Period and was portrayed as such in the popular “Jurassic Park” movies.

But voices of skepticism introduced a note of doubt. T. rex, some researchers reasoned, was too big and too slow to be a predator. Instead of hunting prey, it ate animals that were dying or carrion, the flesh of animals already dead, sort of like a roadside vulture.

In other words, the T. rex basically fed on road kill. This was disheartening news.

However, thanks to paleontologists David Burnham of the University of Kansas and Robert DePalma II of the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History T. rex is back at the top of his era’s food chain.

Their proof: A T. rex chomped down so hard on the tail of a duck-billed dinosaur — a hadrosaur, to be exact — that the tooth broke off. The hadrosaur escaped; the wound healed, and over time the bone grew over the tooth, saving it for posterity and eventual discovery by a CT scan.

The duck-billed dinosaurs were not pushovers. They ranged from 10 to 40 feet long and weighed up to 3 1/2 tons and were fast enough to have a sporting chance of eluding a T. rex, which this one did in long-ago South Dakota, saving its life and 65 million years later the reputation of the T. rex.

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