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# Dino Derby: What was T. rex’ top speed?

December 5, 2008
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How Fast was the T-rex?

Tyrannosaurus Rexstirs passions.  Adults get scared when they imagine a live T-rex chasing kids in a theme park. And kids get a thrill when they day-dream of having a T-rex as a pet.

We scientists get passionate too, we sometimes get so excited we yell at each other when we debate a  T-rex’s speed and hunting habits.

One PhD will start with: “T-rex was a slow-footed fumble-bum! And he didn’t kill anything – he just ate carcasses he found already dead!!”

Then a bunch of us will reply: “That’s just nuts!  Tyrannosaurus was faster than any big veggie-saur! And one bite could kill a duck-bill!”

Who’s right?

TOOLS & RULES.

We need tools – mathematical rules to tell us how fast an extinct animal could run and whether a meat-eater could catch his prey.

Lets take the CHEETAH versus LION.

First we need two critters, close relatives, who have very different top speeds. Lions and cheetahs are perfect. They’re both big cats and they have the same basic design in leg joints.

Cheetahs are way faster. Cheetahs hit nearly 70 mph in a sprint. Lions can’t go much faster than 40 mph.

LONG ANKLES.  Check out these two diagrams. Ok – where does the cheetah get its extra velocity?  From its ankles. Much of the high speed comes from longer ankle bones. The ankle length compared to the thigh length is a reliable speed index in close relatives.

That’s an old Rule that Darwin knew back in 1859.

T-REX versus DUCK-BILL

Duck-bills were the most common big veggie-saurs in the time of the T-rex. The question is, could a T-rex catch a duck-bill?

We need to measure ankles compared to thighs in a rex and a duck-bill of the same geological time zone. Duck-bills and T-rexes have basically the same style of hind legs. And the hind legs deliver all or almost all of their  forward thrust (Duck-bills did put their finger tips down on the ground while walking – but there wasn’t much weight on the forelimb.)

Check out diagram # 3. Here’s a T-rex with a thigh (femur) that’s 1200 mm long. And next to the T-rex is an Edmontosaurus, a big duck-bill.

Who has longer ankles?

THE T-REX!

The longest bones in the ankle are the metatarsals. And the rex has much longer metatarsals, compared to the duck-bill.

CONCLUSION:
T-REX COULD CATCH A DUCK-BILL EASILY, IN A SPRINT ON OPEN GROUND.

That’s cool.  But now we have more questions – how fast was a duck-bill and a T-rex, in mph?  And did a T-rex have the killing equipment necessary for bringing down live prey? Stay tuned for the answers to these questions.

Authored By Bob Bakker

The Museum’s Curator of Paleontology, world-renowned Dr. Robert T. Bakker (or, as some call him, Bob) is the leader of the handful of iconoclastic paleontologists who rewrote the book on dinosaurs three decades ago. Along with other noted paleontologists, Bakker has changed the image of dinosaurs from slow-moving, slow-witted, cold-blooded creatures to — at least in some cases — warm-blooded giants well-equipped to dominate the Earth for 200 million years. Dr. Bakker can be found all over the globe, notably leading the Museum’s paleontology field program.

### One response to “Dino Derby: What was T. rex’ top speed?”

1. Tim Reynolds says:

Nice post. Thank you for the info. Keep it up.

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