AP (Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil skull "Sue" discovered in South Dakota)
LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) -
More than 100 years ago a University of Kansas scientist found the first Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. Now, another group from KU may be proving what scientists have been debating for decades, whether T. rex was a scavenger or a predator.
The skeleton of a duckbill dinosaur sits at KU's Natural History Museum and it's that dinosaur who suffered an attack scientists believe may prove the T. rex was a real monster.
"For paleontologists, it's like finding the holy grail because here you have it, proof of behavior," said Dr. David Burnham.
Burnham and his team my very well be next on deck for changing the way we think about dinosaurs.
Researchers found a part of a T. rex tooth wedged between two tailbones of a duckbill dinosaur unearthed in the Hell Creek Formation in northwestern South Dakota.
"We brought it in the lab with a micro sandblaster and, low and behold, there was a tooth sticking out," Burnham said.
What makes the discovery is that it may help a hundred-year-old debate, that T. rex wasn't a passive scavenger, but a dangerous predator.
"T. rex is big, it's huge, 5-foot-long skull, 40-feet-long tip of the nose to tip of the tail and this was a scavenger?" Burnham said.
Burnham said he's never had any doubt T. rex was a natural-born hunter.
"They had powerful, bone-crushing jaws, capable of almost 50,000 pounds of force," he said.
Scientists have argued T. rex, while impressive in size, couldn't run well, see well or recover easily if he tripped and fell. That led many to believe he just ate the leftovers.
But the tooth, said Burnham, was found in the back of a duckbill dinosaur, as if he was bitten while running away. He said it's possible proof T. rex was on the hunt and missed.
The duckbill dinosaur survived the attack, as evidenced by months or years of formation of bone around the tooth where the dinosaur's body tried to heal, but it left behind a piece of historical evidence.
"It's kind of bone-chilling because I work with fossils all the time and they become objects but then, when you find something that exhibits behavior, you think, 'wow, the monster in Jurassic Park was real. These things really would hunt you down and eat you,'" Burnham said.
You might think a T. rex would take down anything in sight, but Jack Horner, of Montana State University, said it apparently preyed on the weak, the sick and the young instead.
It makes sense that T. rex also scavenged, said Kenneth Carpenter, curator of paleontology at the Utah State University East Prehistoric Museum.
"If there's a free meal, why not?" he asked. But decay can make carcasses toxic after a while, he said, and "at that point, T. rex is going to have no choice but to hunt."
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