November 8, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

T. rex in the News

Children’s favorite monster was a ballerina with functional arms, according to new announcements.

T. Rex Turned Like a Ballerina from a Slow-Motion Nightmare (Live Science). How reporter Laura Geggel knows this is not clear, since she never saw one at the ballet, unless she liked watching Barney on TV as a college student and wrote this under the influence of a substance:

Most people don’t think of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex as having the grace of a pirouetting ballerina or the poise of a spinning figure skater, but new research indicates that the dinosaur king was quite good at turning to pounce on prey.

In fact, T. rex and its tyrannosaur relatives were master twirlers — sporting between two and three times the agility of other theropod dinosaurs, a group of bipedal, mostly meat-eating beasts, new research finds.

Actually, Geggel did not dream this in a state of euphoria, but relied on the word of Eric Snively, an associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He calls his dancing T. rex “a slow-motion 10-tonne [9 tons] figure skater from hell.” Dancing metaphors aside, a study of the bone structure of the beast shows it was finely balanced, with muscles probably attached in a way to facilitate turns. “Tyrannosaurs could even turn as quickly as theropods half their body size, indicating they were gold medalists not only for their banana-size, serrated teeth and powerful bite force, but also for their agility,” the article states.

Tyrannosaur at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Photo by David Coppedge.

Hail the Lizard King. T. Rex’s Puny Arms Were Useful After All (Live Science). Earlier, Geggel reported another myth-busting aspect of the Tyrannosaurus rex: its arms were actually functional, not useless vestiges of evolutionary ancestors. A little interpolation was required to come to this conclusion:

By studying the arm movements of two distant relatives of T. rex — the domestic turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) — researchers have learned that T. rex and other theropods (a group of mostly meat-eating, bipedal dinosaurs) could likely turn the palms of their hands toward their chests.

The comparison supports the notion that the monsters were clappers, not slappers. Beyond that, they could probably turn their arms upward, in order to bring their prey closer for a bite. (No, they did not bite their arms off in the process.) The article did not speculate on whether T. rex meat tastes like chicken (or turkey). Undoubtedly one drumstick would feed the whole party.

T. rex may have used its long feet for stealthy surprise attacks (New Scientist). Remember the scene in the original Jurassic Park movie when the T. rex approached in the dark, its thunderous footsteps making seismic waves in the water? A scientist in Uruguay thinks the monsters were sneakier than that.

Blanco and his colleagues simulated the pattern of seismic waves generated when the dinosaur feet hit the ground. They found the waves produced by theropod feet were weakest in the walking direction: in other words, theropods had a foot shape that would have allowed them to sneak up on their prey while ‘seismically’ masking their presence.

Why didn’t anybody think of this until now? “So far, there is no evidence of a modern animal using this camouflage,” said Ernesto Blanco of Republic University. “But it is a new concept. So perhaps it’s because nobody was looking for it before.”

Each of these articles says very little about evolution, mentioning it only briefly at all. For instance, in the third article, we read:

Blanco suggests that the elongated feet could have evolved precisely because they should have given theropods a hunting advantage, although he says the idea will need to be tested in more detail.

For the most part, though, these articles show design features: balance, function, and camouflage. Throwing in the Stuff Happens Law adds very little to understanding of how these large animals originated and operated. Keep chance out of it. The articles illustrate that a focus on observation and design is more interesting than repeating ad nauseum, “it evolved.”

 

 

 

 

 

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