A Daspletosaurus (centre left), a close relative of T. rex that shared its way of moving, chases down a Spinops with a Coronasaurus (right) looking on in a handout ilustration. (Julius Csotonyi photo)

A Daspletosaurus (centre left), a close relative of T. rex that shared its way of moving, chases down a Spinops with a Coronasaurus (right) looking on in a handout ilustration. (Julius Csotonyi photo)

Not a sprint star: Research says T. rex was built for distance, not speed

T. rex’s long legs would have made that a very efficient 20 km/h, a pace that could be kept up for quite a while

Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the most feared predators in the Age of Dinosaurs, may have been built for endurance, not speed.

A paper published Wednesday takes recent research on how mammals move and applies it to dinosaurs. Its conclusions support theories that the massive meat-eaters hunted in packs and opens a window into the ecology of the ancient forests they roamed.

“We’re trying to figure out how much energy is going into and flowing through paleo ecosystems,” said Hans Larsson of Montreal’s McGill University, one of the paper’s co-authors.

“If we can’t get an estimate for what it takes to feed the apex predators, then we have no chance of estimating anything else.”

To figure out how much T. rex needed to eat, the scientists first had to figure out how it moved, including how fast it could run.

In the past, that’s been done using a formula based on hip height.

“That, coupled with body mass, can tell us a lot about speed,” said Larsson.

The problem is that an animal’s speed comes from many factors — the relative length of certain leg bones; whether it runs on its toes or its heels; its size.

Consider the elephant. Its hip height is lengthy, but a gazelle can run rings around it.

“Lots of other things come into play,” Larsson said.

“What we wanted to do was recalibrate … dinosaur speed using some really cool new papers that have come out using mammals, especially really large mammals.”

Larsson applied those papers to dinosaurs, bringing body mass into the calculation.

Earlier papers proposed T. rex could achieve speeds of up to 70 km/h — a lightning pace for an animal that would have weighed more than 10 tonnes. Larsson suggests its top end would have been closer to 20 km/h.

But, he adds, T. rex’s long legs would have made that a very efficient 20 km/h, a pace that could be kept up for quite a while.

Larsson asked what that could mean.

“If this were their mode of hunting, being able to go much greater distances at a pretty good clip, what kind of lifestyle would that be? The animals that do this today are ones, like wolves, that hunt in packs.”

Near Red Deer, Alta., a group of many large, meat-eating dinosaur fossils appear to be from members of a single flock.

“It’s pretty good evidence,” said Larsson.

Understanding how the top predator in the forests of the Cretaceous era moved and hunted allows scientists to also ask better questions about that ancient ecosystem.

How much food would T. rex have needed to move that huge body at that pace? How much prey would have had to have been available? What would that prey have needed to eat?

Answering those questions will have direct benefits for modern biology, Larsson said.

“Some of the fundamental questions on current ecosystems are still not there. In most cases, we don’t even know what the food web is.”

Rebuilding an ancient food web from sketchy fossil records could give science a road map to find its way through the incredible complexity of a living forest, he said.

“We can start off with a paleo ecosystem and start developing ideas that can be used to begin tackling these questions in living ecosystems. The data become far simpler.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Science

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson (right) with his partner Shelley Wiese participated in an BC Liberals Caucus virtual oath ceremony Friday, Nov. 27. Doerkson was appointed opposition critic of rural development by interim leader Shirley Bond. (Photo submitted)
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA appointed rural development opposition critic

Newly-elected Lorne Doerkson said it will be an honour to work for all rural consituents

Yunesit’in Chief Lennon Solomon signs a memorandum of understanding with COS Insp. Len Butler. The five-year agreement was signed outside the Tsilhqot’in National Government in downtown Williams Lake on Nov. 30. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Yunesit’in Government, Conservation Officer Service team up to address illegal moose hunting

Protection of moose a key focus of recently signed memorandum of understanding

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Clinton fire hall, date unknown. Photo credit: Submitted
Clinton Volunteer Fire Department seeks funding for gear, equipment

More equipment needed after successful recruitment drive.

Fireworks display provided a colourful and sizzling Halloween for area residents. (Ken Alexander photo)
Ken Alexander: Fireworks provides colourful Halloween

Seven young ladies brought great joy to the residents on Green Lake… Continue reading

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Interior Health said its new toll-free line will help people connect to health-care services. (File)
Interior Health expands toll-free line to improve access to community care

By calling1-800-707-8550, people can be connected to several health-care services

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Most Read