Even one of the best known dinosaurs has kept some secrets. Here is what palaeontologists most want to know about the famous tyrant.
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In late 1905, newspaper reporters gushed over the bones of a prehistoric monster that palaeontologists had unearthed in the badlands of Montana. When The New York Times described the new 'Tyrant saurian', the paper declared it "the most formidable fighting animal of which there is any record whatever". In the century since, Tyrannosaurus rex has not loosened its grip on the imaginations of the public or palaeontologists.
Stretching more than 12 metres from snout to tail and sporting dozens of serrated teeth the size of rail spikes, the 66-million-year-old T. rex remains the ultimate example of a prehistoric predator - so much so that a media frenzy erupted this year over a paper debating whether T. rex
predominantly hunted or scavenged its meals1
. This infuriated many palaeontologists, who say the matter was resolved long ago by ample evidence showing that T. rex
could take down prey and dismantle carrion. What particularly vexed researchers was that this non-issue overshadowed other, more important questions about T. rex
The dinosaur's evolutionary origins, for example, are still a mystery. Researchers are eagerly trying to determine how these kings of the Cretaceous period (which spanned from 145 million to 66 million years ago) arose from a line of tiny dinosaurs during the Jurassic period (201 million to 145 million years ago). There is also considerable debate about what T. rex
was like as a juvenile, and whether palaeontologists have spent decades mistaking its young for a separate species. Even the basic appearance of T. rex
is in dispute: many researchers argue that the giant was covered in fluff or fuzz rather than scales. And then there is the vexing question of why T. rex
had such a massive head and legs but relatively puny arms.