What's for dinner? T. Rex may have been a picky — not 'brutish' — eater

Stan, one of the largest and most complete
Tyrannosaurus rex fossils discovered, is on display, Sept.
15, 2020, at Christie’s in New York. New research indicates the T.
rex may have been a picky eater.

Stan, one of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossils discovered, is on display, Sept. 15, 2020, at Christie’s in New York. New research indicates the T. rex may have been a picky eater. (Mary Altaffer, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — New research out of Japan says a complex neurovascular system in the lower jaw of the T. rex indicates the gargantuan beast wasn't just ripping through flesh and bone willy-nilly, but rather the dinosaur had a more discerning palate.

In other words, the species could have been a picky eater, turning its nose up at different parts of its kill or avoiding some potential prey altogether.

The findings build on the field of knowledge uncovered in Utah and elsewhere in the world.

Scientists from the Institute of Dinosaur Research at Fukui Prefectural University conducted the research examining the sensitive nerves in the lower jaw through modeling.

Their research was published in Historical Biology this week and is another reveal about the huge and powerful Tyrannosaurus rex that ruled the Northern Hemisphere 76 million years ago.

The speculation unearthed in the study is intriguing to Alan Titus, the Bureau of Land Management's Paria River District paleontologist.

In April, the BLM announced findings from its own research gleaned from a discovered pile of T. rex dinosaurs at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The discovery led them to conclude they all died at the same time in the same flood event and were hanging out together in a "gregarious" social unit.

It was a "wow" moment for Titus and others in the field of paleontology because it disavowed the notion that the species were solitary hunters but instead engaged in a more sophisticated family structure.

Now, this information from researchers in Japan peels back another layer of what scientists understand about this species, which could have been as long as 40 feet, stood 12 feet tall and weighed as much as 9 tons.

"I think what we are finding is this ever-expanding concept that these animals are much more complicated than we originally assumed," Titus said.

Other animals have a similar complex system of nerves and blood flow that assist them in the hunt for their next meal, but they are especially dense in some species of birds that forage in mud.

The kiwi, a small flightless bird native to New Zealand, has nerves that it uses to root out worms burrowing in the ground, Titus said.

The crocodile, too, has pressure points all over its face to assist it at mealtime. The pressure points pick up movement in the water.

Titus said while the crocodile may not be able to see its next dinner in murky swamps, it can feel its food nearby.


It's rather hard to explain except that the tyrannosaur decided you don't taste good, I am going to leave you alone.

–Alan Titus, paleontologist, on why some horned animals survived T. rex attacks


While the jury is still out on the findings from Japan, Titus said the information could work to dispel long-held assumptions about the T. rex.

Titus said scientists have held they were "very brutish, basic and dull and dimwitted. But it turns out there are a number of lines of evidence that show they were incredibly complex."

Instead of the assertion the T. rex was just "savagely taking down an animal and chewing through flesh and bone," Titus said the findings from Japan suggest they were pickier than that.

He added there have been studies that revealed horned animals have survived an attack by a T. rex, so maybe the meat-eater decided to take a pass.

"It's rather hard to explain except that the tyrannosaur decided you don't taste good, I am going to leave you alone."

At a buffet, however, the T. rex would definitely bypass the salad bar — Titus said they didn't have the kind of teeth to munch on leafy greens — and head for the meat.

"They're hyper carnivores."

Titus personally gets it if the T. rex was a picky eater and turned his nose up at some items on the menu.

"While I was growing up I only ate hamburgers and chicken nuggets," he said, adding he has since branched out to enjoy a more expansive menu.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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