Did T. Rex have lips?

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Toronto re­searcher’s the­ory would make T. Rex the “Mick Jag­ger” of di­nosaurs Kyle Smylie

Ev­ery­one in Drumheller knows that Tyran­nosaurus rex, the king of di­nosaurs, is usu­ally shown bar­ing sharp, gnarled teeth, but a Toronto re­searcher says the car­ni­vore likely had lips that cov­ered up its teeth.

Robert Reisz, a pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of Toronto who spe­cial­izes in ver­te­brate palaeon­tol­ogy, pre­sented re­search at a con­fer­ence of the Cana­dian So­ci­ety of Ver­te­brate Palaeon­tol­ogy that says the T. rex’s and other theropods would not have teeth that stick out with closed mouths.

His re­search sug­gests that the study of liv­ing land an­i­mals with ex­posed teeth, such as ele­phants and boars, shows that the teeth of those an­i­mals con­tain no enamel, but are made of den­tyne. The spec­i­men record shows that the teeth of theropods has both enamel and den­tyne, and makes it more likely that the di­nosaurs had lips to cover their teeth.

Mean­while, crocodiles are the only an­i­mal with ex­posed teeth that have enamel, but they are aquatic.

“It would change ev­ery­thing from mu­seum dis­plays to books,” says Fran­cois Ther­rien, Cu­ra­tor of Di­nosaur Palaeoe­col­ogy at the Royal Tyrrell, who says he’s on the fence un­til the ac­tual pub­li­ca­tion is re­leased later.

“It’s not new. There has been de­bate for years over the fa­cial re­con­struc­tion of di­nosaurs be­cause that’s what peo­ple are in­ter­ested in – see­ing past the bones and see­ing di­nosaurs in the flesh as liv­ing an­i­mals.”

Ther­rien says if it was true, that ther­a­pods and other meat eaters did have lips, then di­nosaurs would look more like a ko­modo dragon than a crocodile.

“Di­nosaurs are strange be­cause they are half­way be­tween crocodiles and birds. So of­ten times you have to look at these two

ex­tremes; crocodiles that re­ally look like rep­tiles, and birds that re­ally look like some­thing from an­other world in com­par­i­son to rep­tiles, with di­nosaurs some­where in be­tween, in order to re­con­struct the fleshy ap­pear­ance of di­nosaurs.”

He says that it wasn’t un­til 1996 that palaeon­tol­o­gists knew meat-eat­ing di­nosaurs had feath­ers, rather than their typ­i­cal de­pic­tion as green, sca­ley rep­tiles.

The con­fir­ma­tion of new hy­pothe­ses leads to a “trickle down” of knowl­edge start­ing with mu­seum ex­hibits, then books, then pop­u­lar cul­ture, Ther­rien says.

“It will def­i­nitely change our per­spec­tive of these an­i­mals. Not only in their ap­pear­ance but also some­thing about their bi­ol­ogy, too.”

“The per­cep­tion of di­nosaurs hav­ing toothy grins would change to some­thing more ma-mallian look­ing in the sense that they cover their teeth with big lips.”

He says imag­ine the great over­bite of a T. rex, with teeth rang­ing up to 15 cm in length, cov­ered in mas­sive lips.

“The T. rex would have been the Mick Jag­ger of di­nosaurs,” laughs Ther­rien.

The re­search takes on a dif­fer­ent sig­nif­i­cance in Drumheller, where rep­re­sen­ta­tions of di­nosaurs are the ba­sis for the town’s draw as a tourist at­trac­tion.

If re­search re­vealed that such a mas­sive re­vi­sion of our imag­in­ings of di­nosaurs, it would call for a re­con­struc­tion of all the stat­ues which pop­u­late Drumheller, in­clud­ing the World’s Largest Di­nosaur.

“That’s how science works, it’s al­ways open for re­vi­sion and de­bate. Sci­en­tists will come and see that the mod­els used by ear­lier sci­en­tists are ac­tu­ally an ex­cep­tion rather than a rule, and come up with a new hy­poth­e­sis for re­con­struc­tion,” he said.

As far as mod­i­fy­ing Drumheller’s tow­er­ing mas­cot, Ther­rien said he’d leave it to some­one else to make the sug­ges­tion to the mayor.

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