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Scientists change their minds about Tyrannosaurus rex yet again

A team of international experts has shed new light on the intelligence of T. rex and other dinosaurs, challenging previous assumptions and offering a fresh perspective on their cognitive abilities.

Dinosaur intelligence: Not quite monkey-like

The research team re-examined brain size and structure in dinosaurs and concluded that they behaved more like crocodiles and lizards, contradicting a previous study that claimed dinosaurs like T. rex had an exceptionally high number of neurons and were substantially more intelligent than assumed.

The previous study had suggested that these high neuron counts could directly inform on intelligence, metabolism, and life history, and that Tyrannosaurus rex might have possessed cognitive traits such as cultural transmission of knowledge and tool use.

However, the new study takes a closer look at the techniques used to predict both brain size and neuron numbers in dinosaur brains and found that previous assumptions were unreliable.

Overestimated brain size and neuron counts

The team discovered that the brain size of dinosaurs, especially that of the forebrain, had been overestimated, leading to inflated neuron counts. They also showed that neuron count estimates are not a reliable guide to intelligence.

Dr Kai Caspar of Heinrich Heine University explained, “We argue that it’s not good practice to predict intelligence in extinct species when neuron counts reconstructed from endocasts are all we have to go on.”

Multiple lines of evidence required

To reliably reconstruct the biology of long-extinct species, the team argues that researchers should look at multiple lines of evidence, including skeletal anatomy, bone histology, the behaviour of living relatives, and trace fossils.

Hady from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences stated, “Determining the intelligence of dinosaurs and other extinct animals is best done using many lines of evidence ranging from gross anatomy to fossil footprints instead of relying on neuron number estimates alone.”

Tyrannosaurus rex as not as intelligent as baboons

The possibility that T. rex might have been as intelligent as a baboon had the potential to reinvent our view of the past. However, the study shows that all the available data is against this idea.

Dr Darren Naish concluded, “They were more like smart giant crocodiles, and that’s just as fascinating.”

Dr Ornella Bertrand from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont added, “Neuron counts are not good predictors of cognitive performance, and using them to predict intelligence in long-extinct species can lead to highly misleading interpretations.”

Rethinking the intelligence of T. rex and other dinosaurs

In summary, this recent study challenges the notion that dinosaurs possessed primate-like intelligence, as suggested by previous research.

The international team of experts found that earlier assumptions about brain size and neuron counts in dinosaurs were unreliable, leading to overestimations of their cognitive abilities.

The scientists emphasize the importance of considering multiple lines of evidence, such as skeletal anatomy, bone histology, the behavior of living relatives, and trace fossils, to accurately assess the intelligence of extinct species.

The study concludes that dinosaurs, like T. rex, were more akin to intelligent giant crocodiles rather than highly cognitive primates, offering a fascinating new perspective on these ancient creatures.

More about Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex)

As discussed above, Tyrannosaurus rex, commonly known as T. rex, was one of the largest and most fearsome predators to ever walk the Earth. This massive theropod dinosaur lived during the Late Cretaceous period, approximately 68 to 66 million years ago.

Adult T. rex individuals reached lengths of up to 40 feet (12.3 meters) and heights of around 12 feet (3.7 meters) at the hips. They weighed between 5.5 and 9 tons (5,000 to 8,000 kilograms), making them one of the heaviest known land predators.

Powerful jaws and teeth of T. rex

Tyrannosaurus rex possessed an incredibly powerful set of jaws, lined with up to 60 massive, serrated teeth. These teeth, some measuring over 12 inches (30 centimeters) in length, allowed T. rex to crush and tear through the flesh and bones of its prey.

The immense bite force of T. rex, estimated to be around 12,800 pounds (5,800 kilograms), was one of the strongest of any terrestrial animal known.

Keen senses of T. rex

Despite its large size, Tyrannosaurus rex had keen senses that helped it hunt effectively. Its eyes were forward-facing, providing excellent depth perception and binocular vision.

T. rex also had a large olfactory bulb in its brain, suggesting a highly developed sense of smell. These sensory adaptations, combined with its powerful jaws and teeth, made T. rex a formidable predator.

Tyrannosaurus rex locomotion and speed

While Tyrannosaurus rex was undoubtedly a powerful predator, its actual running speed has been a topic of debate among paleontologists.

Recent studies suggest that T. rex likely had a maximum walking speed of around 12 miles per hour (19 kilometers per hour) and a running speed of approximately 17 miles per hour (27 kilometers per hour). This is slower than previously thought but still faster than most of its potential prey.

Tyrannosaurus rex fossils and discovery

The first Tyrannosaurus rex fossil was discovered in 1902 by Barnum Brown in Montana, USA. Since then, over 50 T. rex specimens have been identified, making it one of the best-known dinosaurs.

The most complete T. rex skeleton, nicknamed “Sue,” was discovered in 1990 in South Dakota and is now housed at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

Tyrannosaurus rex continues to captivate the public imagination and inspire scientific research. As more fossils are discovered and new technologies are developed, our understanding of this magnificent creature continues to grow, shedding light on its biology, behavior, and role in the ancient ecosystems of the Cretaceous period.

This research was led by Dr Kai Caspar from Heinrich Heine University, along with Dr Cristian Gutierrez-Ibanez from the University of Alberta, Dr Grant Hurlburt from the Royal Ontario Museum, Hady George from the University of Bristol, and Dr Darren Naish from the University of Southampton.

The full study was published in the journal The Anatomical Record.


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