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Trending Science: Tyrannosaurs, terrifying killers… but sensitive lovers??

A recently published study has described a new species of Tyrannosaur, arguing that these fearsome Cretaceous reptiles actually had incredibly sensitive snouts, as sensitive to touch as human fingertips. One of the results of this, the scientists behind the study suggest, is that males and females enjoyed rubbing their sensitive faces together whilst mating.
Trending Science: Tyrannosaurs, terrifying killers… but sensitive lovers??
The study, carried out by a team from Carthage College, Montana, and published in ‘Scientific Reports’, does not actually describe the most well-known ‘Terrible Lizard’ of them all, the terrifying T-Rex, but rather one of its smaller, but no less equally terrifying relatives, a new species called Daspletosaurus horneri.

A sensitive snout

The specimen was excavated from 75 million year-old rock in Montana. It stood around two metres tall and was about nine metres long (about the length of a standard city bus). Its bones have been preserved in exquisite detail, particularly the head and snout. As a result, the team were able to study in detail its coarse, complex textures and came to the conclusion that the animal’s snout was covered in flat scales.

Whilst the animal’s snout would have appeared rough from first sight, dozens of tiny openings along the snout and jaw indicate that hundreds of nerve branches (called foramina) ran beneath the scales and would have made the snout incredibly sensitive, essentially turning the snout into a ‘third hand’.

In the modern world, this sort of snout can be seen in crocodiles and alligators, which have thousands of tiny sensitive bumps called integumentary sensory organs around their jaws. In 2011, scientists at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in Connecticut reported that these animals rubbed these sensitive bumps on the face and body ‘profusely’ before mating, and found the behaviours ‘frequently result in what appears to be overstimulation.’ With such a similar sensitive snout, the Carthage College team are now arguing that such rubbing could have been a feature of Tyrannosaur mating rituals.

Lead scientist Dr Thomas Carr, from Carthage College in Wisconsin, said: ‘Given that the foramina are identical in tyrannosaurs, [that] indicates that they had super-sensitive skin as well.’

Re-evaluating Tyrannosaurs

Daspletosaurus horneri is named after world-famous archaeologist Jack Horner, who theorised that Tyrannosaurus Rex may have been nothing but an opportunistic scavenger. At the time, this caused a little bit of a scandal, as the theory went completely against the public image of the T. Rex as a brutal, vicious killer, stalking its prey across the Cretaceous landscape. Suffice to say, a caring, thoughtful lover is not an image that is popularly associated with these dinosaurs.

Although time travel is impossible, this new discovery is just another step in the efforts to re-evaluate the daily lives of Tyrannosaurs and move away from popular stereotypes that mostly focus on their hunting abilities and scare factor in the public imagination.

Yes, they probably were brutal hunters (unless you believe Horner) some of the time but like modern animals (and humans), Tyrannosaurs would also have been children, adolescents, mothers, fathers and lovers. They would have slept, drank, pooped and most likely cared for their offspring, and hopefully palaeontologists will discover further evidence on their specific lifestyles in future discoveries.

But if the thrilling new discovery of Daspletosaurus horneri teaches us anything about Tyrannosaurs, it’s this: It wasn’t all about the kill.

Source: Based on media reports

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