That Tyrannosaurus rex tooth story is no big deal

Earlier this week, a team of scientists reported their discovery of a T. rex tooth embedded in the fossilized bone of another dinosaur. That the bones had healed implies that the dino had died long after the attack, in turn implying that the tooth got there during a T. rex’s attempt to attack and eat the thing.

But you’ve probably heard all this. Everyone has done a story on it because dinosaurs are awesome. You’ve probably also heard a lot of stuff about what this means for the controversy over whether T. rex was a fearsome predator or a lowly scavenger. Well, it doesn’t really mean anything and there is no controversy.

John R. Hutchinson, an evolutionary biomechanist who studies the way “big/awesome animals” move, shared the uncut comments he gave to one reporter on his blog, and the frustration is palpable.

The T. rex “predator vs. scavenger” so-called controversy has sadly distracted the public from vastly more important, real controversies in palaeontology since it was most strongly voiced by Dr Jack Horner in the 1990s. I find this very unfortunate. It is not like scientists sit around scratching their heads in befuddlement over the question, or debate it endlessly in scientific meetings. Virtually any palaeontologist who knows about the biology of extant meat-eaters and the fossil evidence of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs accepts that T. rex was both a predator and scavenger; it was a carnivore like virtually any other kind that has ever been known to exist.

While the discovery is nice evidence, it is not particularly exciting in a scientific sense and is only one isolated element from species that lived for hundreds of thousands of years, which to me changes nothing and allows no generalizations about the biology of any species, only the statement that at one point in time a Tyrannosaurus bit a hadrosaur that survived the encounter. There is no real substance to the controversy that T. rex was “either” a predator or scavenger. It is just something that scientists drum up now and then to get media attention. [What’s in John’s Freezer?]

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