The bite of a Tyrannosaurus rex could crush bones

Simulation of Tyrannosaurus rex anatomy (Image courtesy Gregory Erickson e Paul Gignac / Florida State University/Oklahoma State University / Scientific Reports)
Simulation of Tyrannosaurus rex anatomy (Image courtesy Gregory Erickson e Paul Gignac / Florida State University/Oklahoma State University / Scientific Reports)

An article published in the journal “Scientific Reports” describes a research on the bite force of Tyrannosaurus rex. Researchers Gregory Erickson and Paul Gignac created computer models based not only on fossils but also on the study of dinosaurs’ living relatives, crocodiles and birds, to estimate T.rex’s bite characteristics concluding that it could crush its prey’s bones.

It’s no surprise that the T.rex had a lethal bite but reducing a victim’s bones into fragments requires certain characteristics in tooth shape. There are several mammal predators such as wolves and hyenas with teeth suitable for fragmenting bones in order to eat their marrow while reptiles can only swallow whole bones. T.rex’s teeth don’t seem to be suitable for crushing bones but several fossil finds suggest that these predators but also their tyrannosaurid cousins could do that.

Gregory Erickson, professor of biological sciences at Florida State University, and Paul Gignac, assistant professor of anatomy and vertebrates paleontology at Oklahoma State University, tried to build a simulation of T.rex bite. They needed to figure out what kind of force and pressure it could exercise but also to reconstruct its biomechanics to determine which characteristics could allow it to crush its prey’s bones without having teeth suitable for that type of task.

The computer model was built using lots of information collected by examining crocodiles, which are dinosaurs’ cousins, and birds, which can be considered modern dinosaurs. The biomechanical part concerns not only teeth but also jaws and their muscles in the examined animals.

The comparison of the characteristics of different animals is what showed the two scientists that bite strength is only one of the factors but they also needed to understand the biomechanical part, meaning how that force is transmitted through the teeth, the measurement called tooth pressure.

According to the results of the simulation, T.rex’s bite could reach a force of 3,600 kilograms and a 30-tonne per square centimeter tooth pressure (or 8,000 pounds and 431,000 pounds per square inch or 34,522 Newtons and 2,974 MegaPascals). The force is about 40 times that of a human being’s bite and it was so strong that its teeth, although not suitable for chewing, were able not only to cut through its prey’s flesh as if it was butter but also to destroy its bones.

This is the last of several researches that tried to estimate T.rex’s bite strength but this time the scientists adopted a modern approach with the help of computers and using comparisons with this animal’s modern relatives. This is an increasingly popular approach to base paleontological research not only on theoretical models but also on measured data.

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