Did Tyrannosaurus rex Live in Packs?

One of the most intriguing questions about Tyrannosaurs has raised its head again.  Did these large Theropods roam the Cretaceous in packs or were they solitary hunters?  That is the question that is being tackled in a new Discovery Channel documentary being shown next Sunday evening.  It is also the topic under discussion in a live web chat with Dr. Phil Currie, a famous Canadian palaeontologist, who is taking a break from his research at the Dept. of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta to talk about the study of dinosaur bone bed evidence discovered in Mongolia.

On Sunday (26th June), The Discovery Channel UK broadcasts an exciting new documentary called “Dino Gangs” which reveals new evidence from Dr Phillip J Currie which suggests that Tyrannosaurus rex and other Tyrannosaurs were not dull witted, solitary creatures but in fact deadly pack hunters.  Behaviour is an aspect of animal activity that is hard to decipher from the fossil record, but Professor Currie and his fellow researchers first postulated that Tyrannosaurs may have been pack animals after the discovery of fossils of a relative of T. rex called Albertosaurus.  Several individual Albertosaur fossil remains were found together in the same bone bed – was this evidence of a pack of these meat-eating hunters dying together?  The argument over whether Tyrannosaurids were pack animals living and hunting together has raged in palaeontological circles for many years, now the Discovery Channel is showing a documentary that brings together the latest findings, one T. rex on its own would have been formidable, but a pack of these 14 metre long giants, would have been truly awesome.

Professor Phil Currie will Discuss his Research

Pack or Solitary Hunter?

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

Today (Wednesday, 22nd June 2011) at 1pm (UK, BST), there will be a live web chat with Dr. Currie where he will talk in-depth about his findings with Discovery viewers and Dinosaur enthusiasts.  Dr Currie will also be joined by two, well respected and expert Dinosaur bloggers, Brian Switek (the WIRED Science blog Laelaps, The Guardian, The Times) and David Orr (Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs).  We at Everything Dinosaur, know these two bloggers well and we are sure it is going to be a fascinating web cast.

The chat should be particularly eye-opening as it will not only reveal more about Dr Currie’s discoveries in Mongolia but also debate whether his findings are fact, or fiction.  If Tyrannosaurs lived in packs, this has implications for their hunting behaviour, breeding activity and social interaction.  For example, if these dinosaurs were pack animals would there be a dominant breeding pair and the pack made up of different genders as with packs of wolves, or perhaps sub-adult, immature males roamed around in groups to protect themselves from attacks from the larger females.

Tyrannosaurs a Pack Animal – an Intriguing Question

Picture Credit: EPA

Dino Gangs – The Evidence

Dr Philip J Currie, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Palaeobiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, has long believed that Tyannosaurids were co-operative pack animals, and he now has further evidence to support the theory.   As a world-renowned palaeontologist who has been part of a five-year dig in the Gobi Desert (Mongolia), he believes that new evidence is set to prove his controversial theory that Tyrannosaurid dinosaurs lived and worked in gangs.

Ever since they were discovered, humanity has thought of Tyrannosaurids as the most ferocious predators ever to walk the Earth. They’re the one group of dinosaurs that everyone knows, with the most famous, Tyrannosaurus rex, being one of the few species familiar in popular culture by its scientific name.

Philip Currie’s theory is groundbreaking because Tyrannosaurids have long been perceived as rather stupid solitary creatures.  For years, scientists concluded that they were solitary because their skeletons were found alone.  Dr Currie is convinced that Tyrannosaurids were more intelligent than previously imagined – and as complex pack animals who lived and hunted in gangs, far more dangerous predators than we thought.

The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project has visited ninety sites where skeletons of Tarbosaurus bataar, a dinosaur related to T. rex, were found. Tarbosaurus bataar was an enormous predator – up to 12 metres long, 3 metres tall, and thought to weigh in at 5 tonnes.  While it is unlikely that all the animals lived together all year, Dr Currie believes that half a dozen of the dinosaurs, including both adult and juvenile specimens, were part of a single social group that died together.  The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project was a five-year expedition, carrying out fieldwork at Bugin Tsav and other sites in the Gobi Desert from 2006 to 2010.

An Illustration of T. bataar (Alarming Reptile)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The idea that some carnivorous dinosaurs were pack hunters is groundbreaking because it is generally thought that pack hunting evolved with the rise of mammals, as it was thought that only mammals were capable of forming the social bonds required to live in a pack.  However, many scientists do believe that some types of dinosaurs lived in herds, the Sauropods for example.  So why not meat-eaters such as Dromaeosaurids and Tyrannosaurids living in packs?

About a dozen near complete specimens of the fast running, Theropod Deinonychus (D. antirrhopus) have been discovered, including remains of Deinonychus individuals next to a Tenontosaurus (a large, herbivorous dinosaur), a rare example of predator and prey being found together.  Did these meat-eaters get killed as a pack of them mobbed the larger Tenontosaurus?  This raises some fascinating questions with regards to the behaviour of carnivorous dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs and other animals are seldom given credit for having enough intelligence to be capable of the co-operative behaviour found in many mammals. This new research, based on the finds in the Gobi Desert and elsewhere, demonstrates that Tyrannosaurids had the build and speed for pack hunting, the highly developed senses to be effective predators, and the brain capacity for co-operative behaviour.  There is now compelling evidence to support the theory that millions of years before mammals evolved to become organised hunters, Tyrannosaurids may have been working together and hunting in teams – a very frightening prospect for any unwary herbivore around at the end of the Cretaceous.

A team of internationally renowned paleontologists will take part in a live webchat at 1pm BST today, this is a great opportunity to get involved in some new dinosaur research and to hear about some work on T. rex that has not been published in any scientific journals yet.

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