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Fossil range: Late Cretaceous, 68.5–65.5 Ma

Tyrannosaurus rex skull, Palais de la Découverte, Paris.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
(unranked): Coelurosauria
Superfamily: Tyrannosauroidea
Family: Tyrannosauridae
Subfamily: Tyrannosaurinae
Genus: Tyrannosaurus
Osborn, 1905
  • T. rex (type)
    Osborn, 1905

Tyrannosaurus (pronounced /tɨˌrænɵˈsɔːrəs/ or /taɪˌrænɵˈsɔːrəs/, meaning 'tyrant lizard') was a genus of theropod dinosaur. The species Tyrannosaurus rex ('rex' meaning 'king' in Latin), commonly abbreviated to T. rex, is a fixture in popular culture. It lived throughout what is now western North America, with a much wider range than other tyrannosaurids. Fossils are found in a variety of rock formations dating to the last three million years of the Cretaceous Period, approximately 68 to 65 million years ago. It was among the last non-avian dinosaurs to exist prior to the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event.

Like other tyrannosaurids, Tyrannosaurus was a bipedal carnivore with a massive skull balanced by a long, heavy tail. Relative to the large and powerful hindlimbs, Tyrannosaurus forelimbs were small, though unusually powerful for their size, and bore two clawed digits. Although other theropods rivaled or exceeded Tyrannosaurus rex in size, it was the largest known tyrannosaurid and one of the largest known land predators, measuring up to 13 metres (43 ft) in length,[1] up to 4 metres (13 ft) tall at the hips,[2] and up to 6.8 metric tons (7.5 short tons) in weight.[3] By far the largest carnivore in its environment, Tyrannosaurus rex may have been an apex predator, preying upon hadrosaurs and ceratopsians, although some experts have suggested it was primarily a scavenger. The debate over Tyrannosaurus as apex predator or scavenger is among the longest running debates in paleontology.

More than 30 specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex have been identified, some of which are nearly complete skeletons. Soft tissue and proteins have been reported in at least one of these specimens. The abundance of fossil material has allowed significant research into many aspects of its biology, including life history and biomechanics. The feeding habits, physiology and potential speed of Tyrannosaurus rex are a few subjects of debate. Its taxonomy is also controversial, with some scientists considering Tarbosaurus bataar from Asia to represent a second species of Tyrannosaurus and others maintaining Tarbosaurus as a separate genus. Several other genera of North American tyrannosaurids have also been synonymized with Tyrannosaurus.



Various specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex with a human for scale
Size comparison of selected giant theropod dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus in purple.

Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the largest land carnivores of all time; the largest complete specimen, FMNH PR2081 ("Sue"), measured 12.8 metres (42 ft) long, and was 4.0 metres (13 ft) tall at the hips.[2] Mass estimates have varied widely over the years, from more than 7.2 metric tons (7.9 short tons),[4] to less than 4.5 metric tons (5.0 short tons),[5][6] with most modern estimates ranging between 5.4 and 6.8 metric tons (6.0 and 7.5 short tons).[3][7][8][9] Although Tyrannosaurus rex was larger than the well known Jurassic theropod Allosaurus, it was slightly smaller than Cretaceous carnivores Spinosaurus and Giganotosaurus.[10][11]

The neck of Tyrannosaurus rex formed a natural S-shaped curve like that of other theropods, but was short and muscular to support the massive head. The forelimbs had only two clawed fingers,[1] along with an additional small metacarpal representing the remnant of a third digit.[12] In contrast the hind limbs were among the longest in proportion to body size of any theropod. The tail was heavy and long, sometimes containing over forty vertebrae, in order to balance the massive head and torso. To compensate for the immense bulk of the animal, many bones throughout the skeleton were hollow, reducing its weight without significant loss of strength.[1]

The largest known Tyrannosaurus rex skulls measure up to 5 feet (1.5 m) in length.[13] Large fenestrae (openings) in the skull reduced weight and provided areas for muscle attachment, as in all carnivorous theropods. But in other respects Tyrannosaurus’ skull was significantly different from those of large non-tyrannosauroid theropods. It was extremely wide at the rear but had a narrow snout, allowing unusually good binocular vision.[14][15] The skull bones were massive and the nasals and some other bones were fused, preventing movement between them; but many were pneumatized (contained a "honeycomb" of tiny air spaces) which may have made the bones more flexible as well as lighter. These and other skull-strengthening features are part of the tyrannosaurid trend towards an increasingly powerful bite, which easily surpassed that of all non-tyrannosaurids.[16][17][18] The tip of the upper jaw was U-shaped (most non-tyrannosauroid carnivores had V-shaped upper jaws), which increased the amount of tissue and bone a tyrannosaur could rip out with one bite, although it also increased the stresses on the front teeth.[19][20]

Life restoration of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex displayed marked heterodonty (differences in shape).[1][21] The premaxillary teeth at the front of the upper jaw were closely packed, D-shaped in cross-section, had reinforcing ridges on the rear surface, were incisiform (their tips were chisel-like blades) and curved backwards. The D-shaped cross-section, reinforcing ridges and backwards curve reduced the risk that the teeth would snap when Tyrannosaurus bit and pulled. The remaining teeth were robust, like "lethal bananas" rather than daggers; more widely spaced and also had reinforcing ridges.[22] Those in the upper jaw were larger than those in all but the rear of the lower jaw. The largest found so far is estimated to have been 30 centimetres (12 in) long including the root when the animal was alive, making it the largest tooth of any carnivorous dinosaur.[2]


Tyrannosaurus rex head reconstruction at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Tyrannosaurus is the type genus of the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea, the family Tyrannosauridae, and the subfamily Tyrannosaurinae; in other words it is the standard by which paleontologists decide whether to include other species in the same group. Other members of the tyrannosaurine subfamily include the North American Daspletosaurus and the Asian Tarbosaurus,[23][24] both of which have occasionally been synonymized with Tyrannosaurus.[20] Tyrannosaurids were once commonly thought to be descendants of earlier large theropods such as megalosaurs and carnosaurs, although more recently they were reclassified with the generally smaller coelurosaurs.[19]

Profile view of a Tyrannosaurus skull (AMNH 5027)

In 1955, Soviet paleontologist Evgeny Maleev named a new species, Tyrannosaurus bataar, from Mongolia.[25] By 1965, this species had been renamed Tarbosaurus bataar.[26] Despite the renaming, many phylogenetic analyses have found Tarbosaurus bataar to be the sister taxon of Tyrannosaurus rex,[24] and it has often been considered an Asian species of Tyrannosaurus.[19][27][28] A recent redescription of the skull of Tarbosaurus bataar has shown that it was much narrower than that of Tyrannosaurus rex and that during a bite, the distribution of stress in the skull would have been very different, closer to that of Alioramus, another Asian tyrannosaur.[29] A related cladistic analysis found that Alioramus, not Tyrannosaurus, was the sister taxon of Tarbosaurus, which, if true, would suggest that Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus should remain separate.[23]

Other tyrannosaurid fossils found in the same formations as Tyrannosaurus rex were originally classified as separate taxa, including Aublysodon and Albertosaurus megagracilis,[20] the latter being named Dinotyrannus megagracilis in 1995.[30] However, these fossils are now universally considered to belong to juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex.[31] A small but nearly complete skull from Montana, 60 centimetres (2.0 ft) long, may be an exception. This skull was originally classified as a species of Gorgosaurus (G. lancensis) by Charles W. Gilmore in 1946,[32] but was later referred to a new genus, Nanotyrannus.[33] Opinions remain divided on the validity of N. lancensis. Many paleontologists consider the skull to belong to a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex.[34] There are minor differences between the two species, including the higher number of teeth in N. lancensis, which lead some scientists to recommend keeping the two genera separate until further research or discoveries clarify the situation.[24][35]


Skull of Tyrannosaurus rex, type specimen at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This was heavily and inaccurately restored with plaster using Allosaurus as a model, and has since been disassembled.

The first fossil specimen which can be attributed to Tyrannosaurus rex consists of two partial vertebrae (one of which has been lost) found by Edward Drinker Cope in 1892 and described as Manospondylus gigas. Osborn recognized the similarity between M. gigas and Tyrannosaurus rex as early as 1917 but, due to the fragmentary nature of the Manospondylus vertebrae, he could not synonymize them conclusively.[36]

In June 2000, the Black Hills Institute located the type locality of M. gigas in South Dakota and unearthed more tyrannosaur bones there. These were judged to represent further remains of the same individual, and to be identical to those of Tyrannosaurus rex. According to the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the system that governs the scientific naming of animals, Manospondylus gigas should therefore have priority over Tyrannosaurus rex, because it was named first. However, the Fourth Edition of the ICZN, which took effect on 1 January 2000, states that "the prevailing usage must be maintained" when "the senior synonym or homonym has not been used as a valid name after 1899" and "the junior synonym or homonym has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, in at least 25 works, published by at least 10 authors in the immediately preceding 50 years ..."[37] Tyrannosaurus rex may qualify as the valid name under these conditions and would most likely be considered a nomen protectum ("protected name") under the ICZN if it was ever challenged, which it has not yet been. Manospondylus gigas would then be deemed a nomen oblitum ("forgotten name").[38]


Life history

A graph showing the hypothesized growth curves (body mass versus age) of four tyrannosaurids. Tyrannosaurus rex is drawn in black. Based on Erickson et al. 2004.

The identification of several specimens as juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex has allowed scientists to document ontogenetic changes in the species, estimate the lifespan, and determine how quickly the animals would have grown. The smallest known individual (LACM 28471, the "Jordan theropod") is estimated to have weighed only 29.9 kg (66 lb), while the largest, such as FMNH PR2081 ("Sue") most likely weighed over 5400 kg (6 short tons). Histologic analysis of Tyrannosaurus rex bones showed LACM 28471 had aged only 2 years when it died, while "Sue" was 28 years old, an age which may have been close to the maximum for the species.[3]

Histology has also allowed the age of other specimens to be determined. Growth curves can be developed when the ages of different specimens are plotted on a graph along with their mass. A Tyrannosaurus rex growth curve is S-shaped, with juveniles remaining under 1800 kg (2 short tons) until approximately 14 years of age, when body size began to increase dramatically. During this rapid growth phase, a young Tyrannosaurus rex would gain an average of 600 kg (1,300 lb) a year for the next four years. At 18 years of age, the curve plateaus again, indicating that growth slowed dramatically. For example, only 600 kg (1,300 lb) separated the 28-year-old "Sue" from a 22-year-old Canadian specimen (RTMP 81.12.1).[3] Another recent histological study performed by different workers corroborates these results, finding that rapid growth began to slow at around 16 years of age.[39] This sudden change in growth rate may indicate physical maturity, a hypothesis which is supported by the discovery of medullary tissue in the femur of a 16 to 20-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex from Montana (MOR 1125, also known as "B-rex"). Medullary tissue is found only in female birds during ovulation, indicating that "B-rex" was of reproductive age.[40] Further study indicates an age of 18 for this specimen.[41] Other tyrannosaurids exhibit extremely similar growth curves, although with lower growth rates corresponding to their lower adult sizes.[42]

Over half of the known Tyrannosaurus rex specimens appear to have died within six years of reaching sexual maturity, a pattern which is also seen in other tyrannosaurs and in some large, long-lived birds and mammals today. These species are characterized by high infant mortality rates, followed by relatively low mortality among juveniles. Mortality increases again following sexual maturity, partly due to the stresses of reproduction. One study suggests that the rarity of juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex fossils is due in part to low juvenile mortality rates; the animals were not dying in large numbers at these ages, and so were not often fossilized. However, this rarity may also be due to the incompleteness of the fossil record or to the bias of fossil collectors towards larger, more spectacular specimens.[42]

Sexual dimorphism

Tyrannosaurus skeleton casts mounted in a mating position, Jurassic Museum of Asturias.

As the number of specimens increased, scientists began to analyze the variation between individuals and discovered what appeared to be two distinct body types, or morphs, similar to some other theropod species. As one of these morphs was more solidly built, it was termed the 'robust' morph while the other was termed 'gracile.' Several morphological differences associated with the two morphs were used to analyze sexual dimorphism in Tyrannosaurus rex, with the 'robust' morph usually suggested to be female. For example, the pelvis of several 'robust' specimens seemed to be wider, perhaps to allow the passage of eggs.[43] It was also thought that the 'robust' morphology correlated with a reduced chevron on the first tail vertebra, also ostensibly to allow eggs to pass out of the reproductive tract, as had been erroneously reported for crocodiles.[44]

In recent years, evidence for sexual dimorphism has been weakened. A 2005 study reported that previous claims of sexual dimorphism in crocodile chevron anatomy were in error, casting doubt on the existence of similar dimorphism between Tyrannosaurus rex genders.[45] A full-sized chevron was discovered on the first tail vertebra of "Sue," an extremely robust individual, indicating that this feature could not be used to differentiate the two morphs anyway. As Tyrannosaurus rex specimens have been found from Saskatchewan to New Mexico, differences between individuals may be indicative of geographic variation rather than sexual dimorphism. The differences could also be age-related, with 'robust' individuals being older animals.[1]

Only a single Tyrannosaurus rex specimen has been conclusively shown to belong to a specific gender. Examination of "B-rex" demonstrated the preservation of soft tissue within several bones. Some of this tissue has been identified as medullary tissue, a specialized tissue grown only in modern birds as a source of calcium for the production of eggshell during ovulation. As only female birds lay eggs, medullary tissue is only found naturally in females, although males are capable of producing it when injected with female reproductive hormones like estrogen. This strongly suggests that "B-rex" was female, and that she died during ovulation.[40] Recent research has shown that medullary tissue is never found in crocodiles, which are thought to be the closest living relatives of dinosaurs, aside from birds. The shared presence of medullary tissue in birds and theropod dinosaurs is further evidence of the close evolutionary relationship between the two.[46]

Outdated reconstruction (by Charles R. Knight), showing 'tripod' pose


Like many bipedal dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex was historically depicted as a 'living tripod', with the body at 45 degrees or less from the vertical and the tail dragging along the ground, similar to a kangaroo. This concept dates from Joseph Leidy's 1865 reconstruction of Hadrosaurus, the first to depict a dinosaur in a bipedal posture.[47] Henry Fairfield Osborn, former president of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, who believed the creature stood upright, further reinforced the notion after unveiling the first complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in 1915. It stood in this upright pose for nearly a century, until it was dismantled in 1992.[48] By 1970, scientists realized this pose was incorrect and could not have been maintained by a living animal, as it would have resulted in the dislocation or weakening of several joints, including the hips and the articulation between the head and the spinal column.[49] The inaccurate AMNH mount inspired similar depictions in many films and paintings (such as Rudolph Zallinger's famous mural The Age Of Reptiles in Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History)[50] until the 1990s, when films such as Jurassic Park introduced a more accurate posture to the general public. Modern representations in museums, art, and film show Tyrannosaurus rex with its body approximately parallel to the ground and tail extended behind the body to balance the head.[20]


Closeup of forelimb; specimen at National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC.
Diagram illustrating Tyrannosaurus rex arm anatomy.