KANAB — When you think of a T-Rex, do you think of a lone operator? Maybe think again.
Maybe Tyrannosaurus Rex and its ancestors were social animals that spent time with friends and family. That’s a theory from BLM paleontologist Alan Titus, who’s discovered what he calls a “King Tut’s tomb of the paleontological world” in southern Utah.
About five years ago Titus was working on the Kaiparowits Plateau when he stumbled across a piece of dinosaur bone.
“New rain had exposed an ankle bone of an adult Tyrannosaur, the first we’d seen in that site,” he says.
It turned out, he says, to be the biggest find of his career.
“We did a happy dance. Oh yeah, we got up and high fives all around screaming and yelling,” he says. “Because you knew from the first day, what you have.”
What they had were the bones of four Tyrannosaurs, an adult and three youngsters that met an untimely death together. “Together” is the key word there.
“Together” might mean Tyrannosaurus was a social creature, an animal that reared its young and hunted in packs.
It’s an idea that’s been up for debate. Opponents say, like reptiles today, the dinosaur’s small brains didn’t have the capacity to think about other dinosaurs.
Titus says compare it, not to a reptile, but to a closer relative, a bird.
Birds, to stay lightweight, pack more brains into a smaller space. That’s why the Harris’s Hawk, for example, he says, has enough brainpower to hunt in packs, like wolves and lions.
“I’m thinking these (Tyrannosaur social groups) were lifelong groups, that they included extended parental care and mentoring of the young,” Titus says. “I’m suspecting it’s common to all the Tyrannosaurs.”
Titus’ lab in Kanab whines like a dentist office. Staff and volunteers use high-pitched miniature jackhammers to slowly free tyrannosaur bone from hard rock.
“It’s tedious but it’s really fun,” says Libby Greer.
The former drug counselor and bookkeeper Libby Greer has been spending part of the past two years of her retirement trying to uncover the spine of a Tyrannosaur.
“It’s amazing to me that they let me, ‘Joe Blow volunteer’ work on these bones that are 70 million years old. I just felt like a kid in a candy shop,” she says.
The site of the find has been named “Rainbows and Unicorns,” because Titus has been known to exaggerate the importance of finds.
“Because we all know that with Dr. Titus. Everything’s always rainbows and unicorns,” Titus says about himself.
Titus assures us, that this find really is rainbows and unicorns.