Was Tyrannosaurus rex a Ferocious Predator or a Wimp? (2023)


Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous dinosaur in the world: beloved by paleontologists and the public alike (especially kids). How T. rex lived is one of the most hotly debated topics in dinosaur research. T. rex was the largest predator in its ecosystem with a powerful and (possibly) poisonous bite. It has been suggested, however, that T. rex was a scavenger, like the dinosaurian equivalent of a vulture, rather than an active predator. The aim of this article is therefore to examine the behavior and lifestyles of these incredible animals and to provide you with clues on whether T. rex was a predator.


Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous and most beloved dinosaur on the planet. The genus Tyrannosaurus only contained a single species, T. rex. The name T. rex appropriately translates to Tyrant Lizard King. The first T. rex skeleton was unearthed by Barnum Brown in 1900 and was described and named by Henry Fairfield Osborn 5 years later [1]. T. rex was the largest predator in North America during the Late Cretaceous—the last period in which dinosaurs (not including birds) lived—between 68 and 66 million years ago. Much of what we know about T. rex comes from the mid-western United States. T. rex was a theropod (the group of predominantly meat-eating dinosaurs) that could reach up to 12 m (or 40 feet) in length and could have weighed as much as 8 metric tons, which is much more than an African Elephant bull!

A Giant Skull With the Bite Ever

The most striking feature of Tyrannosaurus is their giant skulls which could reach a colossal 1.52 m (5 ft) in length (Figure 1). It is thought that T. rex had the strongest bite force of any land animal that has ever lived. Computer simulations based on the shape and strength of T. rex’s skull showed that its bite force was incredibly powerful. For you to have an idea of how powerful it was, T. rex’s bite was up to 114 times stronger than that of most humans [2].

Was Tyrannosaurus rex a Ferocious Predator or a Wimp? (1)

In contrast to the thin and blade-like teeth of most other theropods (which include Allosaurus, Velociraptor, and even birds), the teeth of tyrannosaurids were oval in cross-section. The thick cross-section of tyrannosaurid teeth shows that they were very strong, and this was confirmed by a 20-cm coprolite (fossilized poo) from Canada, which was packed with bone fragments. The broad teeth of tyrannosaurids provided structural support to withstand the stresses associated with subduing struggling prey.

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It has been hypothesized that tyrannosaurs had septic bites. The shape and angle of the spaces between tooth serrations of tyrannosaurids most closely resemble those of Komodo dragons, a species known for their septic bites. Grease and other food particles become trapped between the T. rex’s teeth serrations leading to colonization by septic bacteria, meaning that a non-fatal bite by a tyrannosaur would have led to a serious bacterial infection [3]. However, the tooth serrations are like those found in other theropods, so it would be hard to argue that tyrannosaurs were exceptional in this regard. Besides, because tyrannosaur mostly hunted prey much smaller than themselves, a septic bite would not have made that much difference to their effectiveness as a predator.

The Senses of T. rex

T. rex had an amazing sense of smell. We know this because the size of the parts of the brain responsible for smell (the olfactory bulbs) are bigger compared to other theropods suggesting that this was behaviorally important to tyrannosaurs [4]. T. rex could locate prey over great distances like a Cretaceous vulture.

Their eyes were large for a theropod of its size, and computerized tomography scans of its fossilized brain and skull—which creates thousands of sequential X-ray images along with the fossilized brain and skull—show that the optic nerve, which carries information from the eyes to the brain, is very well-developed. On top of this, the eyes of tyrannosaurs faced forward. This would have given T. rex good depth perception. It could, therefore, judge distances, an adaption common to modern hunters. The size and position of the eyes, as well as brain structure, has led scientists to think that T. rex had eyesight as good as modern-day birds of prey [4].

The Tiny Powerful Arms of T. rex

The arms of T. rex were relatively tiny, about the size of a human’s, though with different proportions and only two fingers (Figure 2). There has been much debate about the possible functions of their forelimbs. Rather than being useless, T. rex arms were muscular some estimates able to pull 180 kg (400 lbs) as estimated by the size of their biceps—though this is at the higher end of the estimates. This suggests that their arms did serve a purpose, but the exact nature of that purpose is still debated by paleontologists [5]. They are smaller and with less sharp claws than ancestral tyrannosaurs, so whatever they were doing with their arms, they were doing it less than their forbears.

Was Tyrannosaurus rex a Ferocious Predator or a Wimp? (2)

Growing Up

Just like how human change as we get older so did dinosaurs. Unlike the large-headed and bulky adults, juvenile T. rex’s were different with smaller, slender heads, long legs and thinner and more blade-like teeth. So, paleontologists concluded that young tyrannosaurs had a different lifestyle than adults. The longer limbs and more slender bodies meant that juveniles could run much faster than the adults, while the smaller skulls and bladed teeth imply that they did not crush bone like the adults.

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“Warrior” or “Wimp”?

The classic view of T. rex is that it was a terrifying predator and saying anything else seems almost heretical. In 1994, American paleontologist Jack Horner published an article that suggested that a view of T. rex for over a 100 years should be turned on its head … T. rex, the Tyrant Lizard King, was a scavenger. The theory that T. rex and its close relatives were scavengers are based on tooth shape, sense of smell, and the size of the arms [6]. Many of these points have already been discussed in this paper, so what do you think? Was T. rex a scavenger or a predator?

The best answer is that, like most living carnivores T. rex both! There are good examples in the fossil record of large tyrannosaurs acting as scavengers [7], but there is definitive evidence of T. rex hunting, or at least trying to. Paleontologists have found several examples of failed attempts of predation where tyrannosaurs have left marks, or even teeth behind in their prey. One good example is seen is a duck-billed hadrosaur—a medium sized plant-eating dinosaurs called Edmontosaurus annectens, and very common during the Cretaceous—with a bite mark that removed parts of the tail (Figure 3). The bone regrowth around the tooth puncture marks shows that the animal survived T. rex’s attack [8]. Other examples of failed predation include a hadrosaur vertebrae from the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota that has a tyrannosaur tooth preserved inside the bone, which has healed and grown around it [9].

Was Tyrannosaurus rex a Ferocious Predator or a Wimp? (3)


T. rex was the largest predator in North America during the last 2 million years of the age of dinosaurs. By analyzing the fossil remains of T. rex, paleontologists have discovered much about the behavior of these incredible animals. By studying the strength of their skulls, we know that they had the strongest bite force of any land animal that has ever lived. Although T. rex was an active predator, like most large predators, it also engaged in scavenging behaviors too when the opportunities arose.


Predator: A meat-eating animal that kills its own prey.

Cretaceous: The final period of the Mesozoic (which also included the Triassic and Jurassic) which lasted from 145 to 66 million years ago.

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Tyrannosaurids: A group of giant meat-eating dinosaurs that lived in North America and Asia during the latter part of the Cretaceous. Includes Tyrannosaurus and its closest relatives, such as Albertosaurus and the Asian Tarbosaurus.

Septic Bite: This is when a bite allows bacteria to move from the mouth to a wound which leads to a bacterial infection and eventually blood poisoning—a condition called sepsis.

Scavenger: A meat-eating animal that finds and eats animals that are already dead.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We would like to thank Pedro Morais (University of Algarve, Portugal) for his help in editing the article and all the suggestions which helped improve this work, as well as the Young Reviewers for all their hard work in reviewing this article.


[1] Osborn, H. F. 1905. Tyrannosaurus and other Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaurs. Bull. AMNH 21:259–65.

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[2] Bates, K. T., and Falkingham, P. L. 2012. Estimating maximum bite performance in Tyrannosaurus rex using multi-body dynamics. Biol. Lett. 8:660–4. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0056

[3] Abler, W. 1999. The teeth of the Tyrannosaurus. Sci. Am. 281:40–1.

[4] Witmer, L. M., and Ridgely, R. C. 2009. New insights into the brain, braincase, and ear region of tyrannosaurs (Dinosauria, Theropoda), with implications for sensory organization and behavior. Anat. Rec. 292:1266–96. doi: 10.1002/ar.20983

[5] Smith, M., and Carpenter, K. 1990. Forelimb biomechanics of Tyrannosaurus rex. J. Verteb. Paleontol. 10:43A.

[6] Horner, J. 1994. Steak knives, beady eyes, and tiny little arms (a portrait of T. rex as a scavenger). Paleontol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 7:157–64. doi: 10.1017/S2475262200009497

[7] Hone, D. W. E., and Watabe, M. 2010. New information on scavenging and selective feeding behaviour of tyrannosaurids. Acta Palaeontol. Pol. 55:627–34. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0133

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[8] Carpenter, K. 1998. Evidence of predatory behavior by carnivorous dinosaurs. Gaia 15:135–44.

[9] DePalma, R. A., Burnham, D. A., Martin, L. D., Rothschild, B. M., and Larson, P. L. 2013. Physical evidence of predatory behavior in Tyrannosaurus rex. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110:12560–4. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216534110


Was Tyrannosaurus rex a powerful predator? ›

T. rex was the largest predator in its ecosystem with a powerful and (possibly) poisonous bite. It has been suggested, however, that T. rex was a scavenger, like the dinosaurian equivalent of a vulture, rather than an active predator.

Was Tyrannosaurus rex a predator or scavenger? ›

rex was an obligate predator. Like most modern large predators (27, 45) it almost certainly did also scavenge carcasses (9, 16).

What is a Tyrannosaurus rex weakness? ›

What is a Tyrannosaurus rex weakness? Although Tyrannosaurus rex is known for its sharp claws and teeth, this dinosaur also had a few weaknesses. One of them is the presence of extremely short arms, which were too short to be used for eating or grasping items.

Were Tyrannosaurus the apex dinosaur predator Why or why not? ›

Tyrannosaurus rex, the goat-eating, jeep-chasing tyrannosaur from the movie Jurassic Park, was the apex predator of North America just before dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

Which dinosaur was the best predator? ›

Most researchers also believe that Tyrannosaurus would have a bite force beyond that of any other terrestrial animal known to date. These factors come together to present Tyrannosaurus as the best candidate for the top of the list.

What is the strongest predator dinosaur? ›

That said, T. rex had the strongest bite force of any land animal known, even though the ancient shark Megalodon had an even more powerful chomp. It used those jaws to not only tear flesh, but also crush bone — fossilized T. rex poop is full of bone fragments.

What animal kills T. rex? ›

The Spinosaurus recovered quickly from the blow and managed to out-maneuver the Tyrannosaurus and bite deep into his neck. Bellowing in pain, the T. rex groaned out in agony as the Spinosaurus gripped his neck with it's arms and snapped the rival dinosaur's neck, killing him instantly.

Did Tyrannosaurus Rex eat the bones? ›

Scientists have long known that T. rex ate bones, as indicated by the fragments found in fossilized dinosaur dung. Bones, particularly the yolk-like marrow inside, are rich in nutrients.

Was T. rex A fiercest dinosaur? ›

Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the most ferocious predators to ever walk the Earth. With a massive body, sharp teeth, and jaws so powerful they could crush a car, this famous carnivore dominated the forested river valleys in western North America during the late Cretaceous period, 68 million years ago. Although T.

Why is the Tyrannosaurus rex so strong? ›

The fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex could generate tremendous bone-crushing bite forces thanks to a stiff lower jaw. That stiffness stemmed from a boomerang-shaped bit of bone that braced what would have been an otherwise flexible jawbone, a new analysis suggests.

Why is the T. rex the most powerful? ›

"T. rex bites were strong enough to pierce or crush the meat and bones of just about any animal it happened upon," Casey Holliday, an author of the study, told Newsweek. "It bit with about three times the force of really large crocodiles or great white sharks and about 60 times our bite force."

What animal is the true apex predator? ›

In the natural sciences, an apex predator is a predator that exists at the very top of the food chain. Unlike some other predators, it's never preyed upon itself. Examples include polar bears, lions, crocodiles, and orcas.

What was the apex predator before T. rex? ›

Ulughbegsaurus was an apex predator before the infamous T. rex | SYFY WIRE.

What is the biggest dinosaur apex predator? ›

The Spinosaurus is the largest carnivorous dinosaur in history. The Spinosaurus is a massive carnivorous dinosaur that lived on the earth during the Late Cretaceous Period, at least 93.5-99 million years ago.

What is the strongest predator in history? ›

Megalodon is the most powerful creature to ever live.

What are the top 3 predators? ›

Top 9 Apex Predators In The World
  • 8 Snow Leopard.
  • 7 Saltwater Crocodile.
  • 6 Golden Eagle.
  • 5 Polar Bear.
  • 4 Lion.
  • 3 Great White Shark.
  • 2 Tiger.
  • 1 Killer Whale.

What's the scariest dinosaur? ›

We've seen some scary dinosaurs before, the T-Rex, Utahraptor and Jeholopterus all come to mind, but the newly discovered Heterodontosaur may be the scariest of all.

Which is the weakest dinosaur? ›

17/20 Weakest: Gallimimus Were Herbivore Grazers Who Traveled In Herds.

What is the king of all dinosaurs? ›

As the king of dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex was an apex predator — the largest strictly meat-eating land animal that is known to have ever existed.

Do bullets hurt dinosaurs? ›

rex, which had fangs as long as bananas, if you include the roots. However strong, that armor couldn't have stopped bullets, says Philip Senter, a paleontologist at Fayetteville State University. “It's still bone; it's brittle,” he tells The Verge. “A bullet will shatter it.” But Mallon isn't so sure.

Is T. rex stronger than lion? ›

rexes had powerful jaws, but they couldn't quite crush bones like their parents. Still, they were no joke, with a bite that exerted over 5,600 newtons of force -- a little more powerful than that of a full-grown lion or tiger.

What was Tyrannosaurus rex scared of? ›

Except for some carnivorous dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex is also afraid to provoke some herbivorous dinosaurs, and Ankylosaurus is one of them. It was equipped with a powerful tail club that could be swung with enough force to shatter bone.

How did T. rex sleep? ›

But it seems likely that the four-legged dinosaurs probably mostly slept standing up to allow them to respond to predators more rapidly. Two-legged dinosaurs like T-Rex almost certainly lay down though.

What did T. rex meat taste like? ›

Based on the evolutionary tree, we might speculate that T. rex tasted more like poultry than, say, beef or pork. Its flavor would likely have been closer to that of a carnivorous bird—perhaps a hawk—than a chicken.

Is the T. rex blind? ›

The eye position of Tyrannosaurus rex was similar to that of modern humans, but their eyes and optic lobe were much larger than that of modern humans. T. rex, unlike most dinosaurs, had a combination of powerful eyesight and a great sense of smell.

How long did T. rex survive? ›

Probably not more than about 28 years.

Growth rings indicate the T. rex grew quickly, reaching adult size as a teenager—and that the animals died young. The oldest specimen analyzed was only 28 years old.

What is a T. rex real name? ›

The species Tyrannosaurus rex (rex meaning "king" in Latin), often called T. rex or colloquially T-Rex, is one of the best represented theropods. Tyrannosaurus lived throughout what is now western North America, on what was then an island continent known as Laramidia.

Is Tyrannosaurus rex aggressive? ›

Together, however, the two papers support that T. rex was an aggressive dinosaur throughout its life, and that aggression extended towards its own species.

Who is the 1st apex predator? ›

The first known apex predator was the very odd invertebrate, Anomalocaris (meaning "anomalous shrimp"). For the time in which it lived, when most organisms were no more than a few inches in length, Anomalocaris was huge, ranging up to a meter (3.3 ft) in size.

What is the number 1 apex predator? ›

' In terms of animals causing human deaths, the lion is probably the most dangerous apex predator. In the wild, lions use cooperative hunting to prey on buffalo, rhino, hippo, younger elephants, zebra, crocodiles, antelopes, wild hogs, and younger giraffes.

What animal has no predator? ›

Animals with no natural predators are called apex predators, because they sit at the top (or apex) of the food chain. The list is indefinite, but it includes lions, grizzly bears, crocodiles, giant constrictor snakes, wolves, sharks, electric eels, giant jellyfish, killer whales, polar bears, and arguably, humans.

Who would win in a fight T. rex or Spinosaurus? ›

Yet, the T-Rex had a massive neck that the Spinosaurus wasn't going to break with its bite power. The T-Rex could thrash free and clamp down on the Spinosaurus. With all that power and the 12-inch teeth, the most likely outcome is that the T-Rex kills Spinosaurus.

Which dinosaur was the biggest meat eater? ›

Spinosaurus, the largest-known carnivorous dinosaur, and its closest relatives long have confounded scientists trying to understand how these unusual water-loving beasts lived their lives and hunted prey.

Who would win in a fight T. rex or Allosaurus? ›

A T-Rex would win in an Allosaurus vs T-Rex fight. The Allosaurus was a powerful creature in its own right, but the T-Rex was simply overwhelming in its power and size.

Is a Tyrannosaurus rex a meat eater? ›

Scientists find surprisingly precocious example of a meat-eating dinosaur that changed its diet. The theropod ("beast-footed") dinosaurs, which included Tyrannosaurus rex and other fierce predators, were notorious carnivores that lived between about 230 million and 66 million years ago.

What kind of hunter was T. rex? ›

It's evidence that T. rex wasn't simply a scavenger: it actively hunted live prey, including sizable vertebrates like Edmontosaurus annectens, which could grow to be almost 10 feet tall and weigh up to 7,700 pounds. Find out what coprolites, or fossilized digestive waste, reveal about the diet of T. rex.

How did the T. rex defend itself? ›

rex's arms may have been adapted for “vicious slashing” at close quarters, given their ability to inflict deep wounds with four-inch claws. And while they had strong thighs, these dinosaurs were not speedy.

Who is the real king of the dinosaurs? ›

Tyrannosaurus rex is the 'one true king of the dinosaurs' | CNN.

How do we know T. rex was aggressive? ›

rex skull fossils display lots of evidence of bite wounds -- wounds that match up to the size, shape and position of tyrannosaur teeth.

How did T. rex survive? ›

rex was a huge carnivore and primarily ate herbivorous dinosaurs, including Edmontosaurus and Triceratops. The predator acquired its food through scavenging and hunting, grew incredibly fast and ate hundreds of pounds at a time, said University of Kansas paleontologist David Burnham.


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