Could T. rex catch a duckbill? And other dino questions answered.

[Ed. note: Recently, a reader named Wyatt left a comment on the blog asking HMNS Curator of Paleontology Dr. Bob Bakker a few questions about dinosaurs for a high school paper. We thought we'd share the answers with everyone - as well as wish Wyatt luck with his paper.]

1) Which predatory dino was the largest?

T-Rex Dinosaur
Creative Commons License photo credit: Scott Kinmartin

The longest probably were the North African spinosaurs or the Argentine giganotosaurs; both families pushed 50 feet.

But tyrannosaurs were chunkier – thicker neck and torso. So tyrannosaurs would be heavier for any given length. A 40 foot long tyrannosaur would be heavier than a 50 foot spinosaur.

Strongest bite was had by the tyrannosaurs – much wider across the back of the head than giganotosaurs or spinosaurs.

2)  Which would dominate?

That depends on the habitat, geography and geological time. Big tyrannosaurs didn’t live with spinosaurs or giganotosaurs. Tyrannosaurs are restricted to Mongolia, China and North America. Tyrannosaurs did live with many kinds of raptors – including Velociraptor, Bambiraptor, Dromaeosaurus, Saurornitholestes. 

All raptors are smaller than all Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurs. The smallest tyrannosaur is Nanotyrannus, Late Cretaceous of North America, about 1,000 pounds in weight. The biggest raptor of the time was only 100 pounds or so.

Tyrannosaur
Creative Commons License photo credit: matsuyuki

But…..there were many more raptors alive at one time than Nanotyrannus. Just like today – there are many more coyotes than grizzly bears. Raptors were too small to attack adult Triceratops or duck-bills. But tyrannosaurs were too big to capture small, nimble prey, such as furry mammals, birds, lizards, and little herbivorous dinosaurs like Parksosaurus.

Spinosaurs have teeth like those of big crocodiles and probably ate fish and ocean-going reptiles like sea-turtles. Even if spinosaurs and tyrannosaurs lived in the same spot, they would have eaten totally different food.

So, who is “dominant” depends on what sort of prey is being hunted.

3) How do we find out what a big predator ate and how it caught it’s food?

By careful comparison with the design of living animals and analysis of the habitat clues left in the rocks.

Example:  Tyrannosaurus rex.

Commonest prey animal in the same sediment: the duck-bill Edmontosaurus.

Could T. rex catch a duck-bill?  Some scientists say that T. rex was a stumble-bum, limited to a slow walk. They say that we could walk away from a charging T. rex.

Bio-mechanical test:  Among big animals today, faster animals have longer ankle bones (they’re called “metatarsals.”) Look at a lion and a cheetah. Both are cats. The cheetah is much faster. Check out the hind legs. Who has longer metatarsal ankle bones, compared to the thigh?

The cheetah does.

Now let’s compare a duck-bill with a T. rex. The hind legs are built to the same general bird-like plan. Who has longer metatarsal ankle bones?

The T. rex.  So we can conclude that a T. rex really could chase down a duckbill.

How could the duck-bill get away?  Here’s one theory: The abundance of turtle fossils, gators, crocs, and salamanders show that the habitat was warm, wet and supported dense thickets and woodlands.  A duck-bill didn’t have to run away. It could hide in tangled vegetation.

Mambo at Mixers!

Bell and Howell Regent 8mm
Creative Commons License photo credit: aka Kath

I know that for a lot of my friends and co-workers this tends to be their busiest time of year and everyone is craving those lost summer days when they were able to forget about their troubles and play outside, lay on the beach, or catch the latest flick at the movie theater.

It just so happens that we have the best movie theatre in town -because our movie theatre is bigger than your house. I’m talking about 6 stories of in-your-face action with surround sound so sharp you’ll feel it vibrating your chair. 

We wouldn’t take pride in our movie theatre without bringing you the latest flicks, either. And I’m not talking about Hollywood starlets, fake explosions, and trailers so long that you realize that it’s been a full hour since you sat down and the movie still hasn’t begun. When you get to HMNS you have several 3D movies to choose from. Trailers? What are those? We get straight down to business in IMAX by showing you the film and nothing more. All that’s left is what movie to pick!

Here’s a little preview…

Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of Patagonia is an amazing film that follows a real explorer on the frontier of the field of paleontology. A true adventurer, Rodolfo Coria won’t let anything stand in the way of his curiosity while he pieces together the mysterious lives of creatures who have long been extinct. Watch as he reveals the dynamic between the two largest dinosaurs who have ever lived – Argentinosaurus and Giganotosaurus – and what life was like in Patagonia when giants roamed the Earth.

Galapagos 3D explores the volcanic archaepelago of the Galapagos Islands of Darwin fame. One of the most unique environments on the Earth, this area has a wealth of fantastical creatures you would never believe unless you saw them. Dive deep with researchers to discover these incredulous life forms with technology that Darwin could only dream about.

Grand Canyon 3D: River at Risk is an action packed adventure as two father/daughter teams tame the rapids of the mighty Colorado. Portraying the importance of the river and all that it provides to those around it from start to finish, this film is the perfect marriage of education and entertainment.

Mixers, Elixirs, & IMAX provides you with an opportunity to see any one of these films. Did you come in to see an IMAX film for $10? Why not pay $15 for your Mixers, Elixirs, & IMAX ticket? You get hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, a DJ, a live band, and dancing all night.

So if you’re really looking to unwind, get your weekend started off right. Kick back with a cocktail, money in your pocket, and your favorite dancing shoes at Mixers Elixirs, & IMAX. This week get down with the band who put the capital “S” in Soul. The Mambo Jazz Kings are bringing down the house this Friday at the Houston Museum of Natural Science from 6 to 10 p.m.