Teenage Tyrannosaurus rex likely chomped down on prey with a bite as powerful as a modern-day hippopotamus based on a new study by a student-professor team at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
May 2020 geology graduate Shannon Brink, of Wisconsin Dells, worked with UW Oshkosh vertebrate paleontologist Joseph Peterson on the study presented this week at a virtual conference of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The researchers estimated the bite force at just under 2,000 pounds—similar to that of an adult hippopotamus—by simulating puncture marks found in a fossil previously attributed to a 13-year-old T. rex.
Peterson said bite marks attributed to adult T. rex are common in the fossil record and have been estimated at 8,000 to 9,000 pounds of force. However, few fossil bite marks attributed to T. rex have been traced to juveniles.
The results contribute to growing knowledge of how the young T. rex grew up and interacted with food.
“Adult T. rex with blunt teeth likely crushed and swallowed their prey, while the juveniles with their bladelike teeth probably twisted and stripped the meat off the bones,” Peterson explained. “That’s a really different way of eating.”
Learn more about how Brink and Peterson conducted the study in the video below.
Since paleontologists can’t observe first-hand how animals behaved back in the Cretaceous period, they have to “tease out” information by running tests and simulations with fossil evidence, he said.
The work funded by a UWO Faculty-Student Collaborative grant also involved Z. Jack Tseng, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Tseng’s research involves evolutionary modeling of the bite force of modern hyenas.
“UW Oshkosh’s faculty-student grants benefit all involved,” Peterson said. “Faculty gain student assistance to help further their research work, and our students gain valuable research opportunities that undergraduates may not typically have access to.”
On to graduate school
With a new skillset in hand, Brink started graduate school this fall at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.
“Doing research at UWO has given me a big advantage in graduate school. For some of my peers, their thesis is their first research project, so they will be introduced to every aspect of the process for the first time,” she said. “The research experience I got at UWO taught me about the importance of team collaboration, the value of literature review, details to pay attention to while conducting experimental trials, and the benefit of being able to clearly share my findings with the community.”
Brink also knows to be ready for the unexpected when conducting research.
“Over the last couple of years working on this project, I learned that research isn’t as cut and dry of a process as I imagined it would be and takes more creativity than I ever gave it credit for,” she said. “You piggyback off work that has been well accepted by the scientific community, of course, but you have to find an original angle to view a question from and find a way to control all the variables. It can get complex very quickly.”
- Teenage T. rex was already chomping on prey, new UWO research shows
- ‘Jurassic Park’ got it wrong: UWO research indicates raptors don’t hunt in packs
- Study geology at UW Oshkosh