Feeding Traces Attributable to Juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex Offer Insight Into Ontogenetic Dietary Trends

PeerJ. 2019 Mar 4;7:e6573. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6573. eCollection 2019.


Theropod dinosaur feeding traces and tooth marks yield paleobiological and paleoecological implications for social interactions, feeding behaviors, and direct evidence of cannibalism and attempted predation. However, ascertaining the taxonomic origin of a tooth mark is largely dependent on both the known regional biostratigraphy and the ontogenetic stage of the taxon. Currently, most recorded theropod feeding traces and bite marks are attributed to adult theropods, whereas juvenile and subadult tooth marks have been rarely reported in the literature. Here we describe feeding traces attributable to a late-stage juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex on a caudal vertebra of a hadrosaurid dinosaur. The dimensions and spacing of the traces were compared to the dentition of Tyrannosaurus rex maxillae and dentaries of different ontogenetic stages. These comparisons reveal that the tooth marks present on the vertebra closely match the maxillary teeth of a late-stage juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex specimen histologically determined to be 11-12 years of age. These results demonstrate that late-stage juvenile and subadult tyrannosaurs were already utilizing the same large-bodied food sources as adults despite lacking the bone-crushing abilities of adults. Further identification of tyrannosaur feeding traces coupled with experimental studies of the biomechanics of tyrannosaur bite forces from younger ontogenetic stages may reveal dynamic dietary trends and ecological roles of Tyrannosaurus rex throughout ontogeny.

Keywords: Feeding trace; Ontogeny; Paleoecology; Tyrannosaur.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.7424945.v2

Grant support

The authors received no funding for this work.