Scientists say they have discovered new details about young Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaurs.
Researchers examined fossilized skeleton samples from two small Tyrannosaurus rex – also known as T. rex. The skeletons were discovered in the western American state of Montana in the early 2000s.
Researchers named the two dinosaurs Jane and Petey. Each T. rex was estimated to have stood a little taller than a horse and was about twice as long.
The researchers say the fossilized bone samples have helped them better understand the history and development of this famous dinosaur. The findings are described in a study recently published in Science Advances.
The examination team was led by Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences.
Holly Woodward was a lead writer of the study. She said in a statement that it was unusual to study such small fossils from the T. rex family. This is because researchers usually seek to collect the largest fossil samples they can find to study and to show in public.
"The problem is that those smaller fossils may be from younger animals,” Woodward said. “So, for a long while we've had large gaps in our understanding of how dinosaurs grew up, and T. rex is no exception."
The team removed thin pieces from the leg bones of Jane and Petey and examined the samples under a microscope. Woodward said the study of the bones’ “microstructure” can provide valuable information about the animals’ growth rate, age and metabolism.
Researchers said they were able to use this method to count rings within the fossil bone to estimate age. They said Jane lived to be age 13, while Petey was 15. The size of the blood vessel openings showed the two dinosaurs were still experiencing growth at a fast rate at the time of death.
It takes a T. rex about 20 years to reach adulthood. Fossil evidence shows that when fully grown, the T. rex was about 12 meters long and about 5 meters tall.
The researchers say the samples have already provided important details about young T. rex’s growth and development. The fossil examinations suggest the small T. rex grew as fast as modern-day warm-blooded animals such as mammals and birds, the team reported.
The researchers said the findings suggest that the teenage T. rex animals were very quick on their feet and had knife-like teeth for cutting. By comparison, the adult T. rex had teeth meant to crush large bones.
The researchers said they found a clear link between T. rex growth rates and the availability of food. This was discovered in spacing between the yearly growth rings of the fossil bones.
“The spacing between the rings within Jane, Petey, and even older individuals is inconsistent,” Woodward said. “Some years the spacing is close together, and other years it's spread apart." This finding suggests the T. rex grew less during years in which food supplies were limited. If a large supply of food was available, the T. rex experienced far more growth.
Some scientists have questioned whether the two small skeletons really came from a T. rex. Those scientists said they believed the two represented evidence of a newfound kind of dinosaur species called Nanotyrannus. The researchers said they believed Nanotyrannus was similar to T. rex, but was smaller and showed different skull and bone development.
But Woodward and her team said the latest evidence from the two examined skeletons suggests they belonged to teenage T rex dinosaurs – not a new species with a smaller body size.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Agence France-Presse, Oklahoma State University and Science Advances. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
gap – n. an empty period between things happening
metabolism – n. the chemical processes by which a plant or an animal uses food and water to grow and heal and to make energy
mammal – n. a kind of animal that feeds milk to its young and that usually has hair or fur covering most of its skin
inconsistent – adj. not staying the same in quality or behavior
skull – n. the bones of the head that surround the brain