Weird But True
April 2, 2023 | 8:44 p.m
The popular cultural image of Tyrannosaurus rex may not be accurate, according to new research.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File
NEW YORK — Tyrannosaurus rex is often shown with huge teeth, like the ferocious creature in “Jurassic Park.”
But new research suggests this classic picture may be wrong.
Teeth in T. rex and other large theropods were likely covered by scaly lips, the conclusion a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
The dinosaur’s teeth didn’t stick out when its mouth was closed, and even with a wide-open bite, you could only see the tips, scientists discovered.
The research is the latest in a long back-and-forth over what dinosaur mouths actually looked like.
Recent depictions show large teeth protruding from the dinosaurs’ jaws, even when closed. Some thought the predators’ teeth were too big to fit in their mouths, said study author Thomas Cullen, a paleontologist at Auburn University in Alabama.
When researchers compared skulls from dinosaurs and living reptiles, however, they found that this was not the case.
Some large monitor lizards actually had larger teeth than T. rex relative to the size of their skulls, and they could still fit under a set of scaly lips, Cullen said.
The scientists also found clues in the pattern of wear on the tooth’s surface.
For a creature like a crocodile, whose teeth stick out of its mouth, the exposed part is quickly criticized — “like a person taking a sander to the edge of the tooth,” said another with study author Mark Witton, a paleoartist at the University of England. Portsmouth.
But when the researchers examined a tooth from a Daspletosaurus, a relative of T. rex, they found it was in good condition and did not show an uneven pattern of damage.
With this evidence and other clues from the dinosaurs’ anatomy, the study makes a good case for lipped tyrannosaurs, said University of Maryland paleontologist Thomas Holtz, who was not involved in the study. student
However, “we’re not talking kissy lips,” he points out — they’re thin and scaly like those of the Komodo dragon, a large lizard.
This isn’t the first time our depictions of dinosaurs have been called into question: Other research has shown that T. rex was more humped than we previously thought, and that ferocious velociraptors likely had feathers.
Most of what we know about dinosaurs comes from their bones, but it can be harder to get clear answers about soft tissues like skin, which are often not preserved as fossils.
Adding remains can make the dinosaurs look less ferocious, but it also makes them feel more realistic, Witton said.
“You don’t really see any monsters,” he said. “You see an animal.”