T. Rex couldn’t stick its tongue out: Experts find the killer dinosaurs had a mouth like an alligator (but say it could still have ripped you to shreds)
- Modern lizards and birds can extend their tongues, but dinosaurs could not
- Instead their tongues were rooted to the bottom of their mouths like alligators
- Birds later adapted a more mobile tongue to help them eat without hands
- Dinosaurs are typically depicted in museums roaring with their tongues out
- Researchers said this classic image of the reptiles now needs an overhaul
The classic image of Tyrannosaurus Rex shows the killer beast roaring to reveal its sharp teeth and tongue.
But, this may not have been the case, researchers have found.
The huge beast couldn’t stick out its tongue like today’s lizards and birds, say scientists studying dinosaur neck bones – and instead had a mouth more similar to an alligator’s.
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T. Rex couldn’t stick out its tongue like today’s lizards or birds, say scientists. Researchers came to their finding while studying the hyoid bones (blue and green arrows), which support the tongue, of modern birds and alligators as well as those of several species of dinosaur
Instead, the T. Rex’s tongue was rooted to the bottom of its mouth like an alligator, with birds later evolving a mobile tongue to help eat without hands.
Reconstructions of dinosaurs in museums, artwork and film often depict the creatures roaring with their tongues moving wildly in their mouths.
Researchers said this classic dramatic image now needs an overhaul as it is no longer scientifically accurate.
Reconstructions of dinosaurs at museums and in artwork often show them roaring with their tongues wildly waving from the mouths. Researchers said this classic image now needs an overhaul as it is no longer scientifically accurate (stock image)
Experts from The University of Texas at Austin and the Chinese Academy of Sciences made the discovery by comparing ancient and modern hyoid bones.
Hyoid bones act as anchors for the tongue in most animals, but in birds these bones can extend to the muscle’s tip, allowing for greater dexterity.
High-resolution images were taken of hyoid bones from 15 modern species, including three alligators and 13 bird species as diverse as ostriches and ducks.
These hyoids were compared with similar bones in small bird-like dinosaurs, as well as pterosaurs and a T. Rex.
The results revealed that most dinosaurs had a short and simple hyoid bone connected to a tongue that was not very mobile, like modern alligators.
In contrast, pterosaurs, bird-like dinosaurs, and living birds were found to have a wide range of hyoid bone shapes.
High-resolution images were taken of hyoid bones from 15 modern species (pictured), including three alligators and 13 bird species as diverse as ostriches and ducks. These were compared with hyoid bones in small bird-like dinosaurs, as well as pterosaurs and a T. Rex
Researchers proposed that taking to the skies could have led to new ways of feeding that drove a need for greater diversity and mobility in tongues.
‘Birds, in general, elaborate their tongue structure in remarkable ways. They are shocking,’ study coauthor and Texas researcher Professor Julia Clarke said.
That elaboration could be related to the loss of dexterity that accompanied the transformation of hands into wings.
‘If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food,’ said study lead author Dr Zhiheng Li, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Experts argued the newly found dinosaur hyoid structure means reconstructions depicting the reptiles with their tongues stretching from their jaws are now wrong.
‘They’ve been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time,’ Professor Clarke said.
‘In most extinct dinosaurs their tongue bones are very short. And in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth.’
Comparing tongue anatomy across ancient and modern reptiles and birds can help scientists understand how the muscle has evolved in different groups through time (stock image)
Scientists did find one exception to this rule: Ornithischian dinosaurs – a group that includes triceratops and other plant-eating dinosaurs – had hyoid bones that were highly complex and more mobile than many of their Jurassic relatives.
These bones were structurally different from those of flying dinosaurs and pterosaurs, though more research is needed to determine why.
Comparing tongue anatomy across ancient and modern reptiles and birds can help scientists understand how the muscle has evolved in different groups through time.
‘Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals,’ said Dr Li.
WHY DID THE DINOSAURS GO EXTINCT?
Dinosaurs ruled and dominated Earth around 66 million years ago, before they suddenly went extinct.
The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event is the name given to this mass extinction.
It was believed for many years that the changing climate destroyed the food chain of the huge reptiles.
In the 1980s, archaeologists discovered a layer of iridium.
This is an element that is rare on Earth but is found in vast quantities in space.
When this was dated, it coincided precisely with when the dinosaurs disappeared from the fossil record.
A decade later, scientists uncovered the massive Chicxulub Crater at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which dates to the period in question.
Scientific consensus now says that these two factors are linked and they were both probably caused by an enormous asteroid crashing to Earth.
With the projected size and impact velocity, the collision would have caused an enormous shock-wave and likely triggered seismic activity.
The fallout would have created plumes of ash that likely covered all of the planet and made it impossible for dinosaurs to survive.
Other animals and plant species had a shorter time-span between generations which allowed them to survive.
There are several other theories as to what caused the demise of the famous animals.
One early theory was that small mammals ate dinosaur eggs and another proposes that toxic angiosperms (flowering plants) killed them off.
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