Just when you thought the king of the dinosaurs couldn’t get any more terrifying, a study by Japanese researchers has found that T.rex may have been able to pick out the most desirable parts of its freshly-killed prey to eat. A team of researchers based at the Institute of Dinosaur Research in Fukui Prefectural University used computed tomography (CT) scanning techniques to reconstruct the complex structure of blood vessels and nerves found in the mandible of T. rex fossil originally unearthed in Hell Creek Formation, Montana.
By comparing their data to scans of other dinosaurs such as triceratops, along with scans of currently living birds and crocodiles, they were able to determine that T.rex had nerve sensors in the tip of its jaw that enabled it to more easily detect, and select, the tastiest parts of its prey.
“T. rex was an even more fearsome predator than previously believed,” said lead author Dr Soichiro Kawabe, from the Institute of Dinosaur Research at Fukui Prefectural University, in Japan.
“Our findings show the nerves in the mandible of Tyrannosaurus rex is more complexly distributed than those of any other dinosaurs studied to date, and comparable to those of modern-day crocodiles and tactile-foraging birds, which have extremely keen senses.
“What this means is that T. rex was sensitive to slight differences in material and movement; it indicates the possibility that it was able to recognise the different parts of their prey and eat them differently depending on the situation.
Read more about dinosaurs:
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- Would the dinosaurs have eaten us if we were alive at the same time?
The results of the study echo those of analyses of the skull of another tyrannosaurid dinosaur named Daspletosaurus, and an analysis of the nerves and blood vessels in the jaw of another theropod, or two-legged dinosaur, named Neovenator. This makes it likely that the facial area of theropods were highly sensitive, the researchers say.
“This completely changes our perception of T. rex as a dinosaur that was insensitive around its mouth, putting everything and anything in biting at anything and everything including bones." said Kawabe.
Reader Q&A: Would the dinosaurs have eaten us if we were alive at the same time?Asked by: Sarah Deery
Let’s imagine humans living 66 million years ago, alongside the biggest meat-eating dinosaur of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. T. rex surely would have been able to eat people. There are fossil bite marks, matching the teeth of T. rex, on the bones of Triceratops and duck-billed dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus, which were both over 50 times heavier than an average person. But that doesn’t mean we would be hunted to extinction.
Like the prey of lions and tigers today, we would have been in danger, but found ways to survive. Many dinosaurs that were smaller than us survived alongside T. rex, and none of them had the benefit of our large brains!
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.