SCIENCE!

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Science!: Raptorex, The Beatles and WTF

Lauren Admire | 21 Sep 2009 21:00
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Tiny T-rex Had Size Issues, Overcompensated

After Jurassic Park came out, there was nothing more terrifying than hearing that tell-tale, hollow THWOMP and then seeing a serendipitously placed puddle of water quiver in terror. These were the only warnings before a 43-foot long, razor-toothed, Tyrannosaurus rex burst out of the brush, hungry for some human a la carte. However, if you had the unfortunate luck to be born during the Cretaceous period, you wouldn't receive any such warnings before being devoured.

Millions of years before T-rex burst on the scene, there lived a tinier version of it, which scientists have dubbed the Raptorex kriegsteini. The pint-sized predecessor featured the same bulbous head, powerful legs, and comically short forelimbs of its later reincarnation. And it was only 9 feet tall.

The discovery of this fossil rocked the paleontological world. It was believed that Tyrannosaurus had been the unfortunate victim of a cosmic joke: Its ridiculously short forelimbs had been a trade-off for more evolutionarily advantageous features, such as being really-frickin-huge. However, the Raptorex fossil also had those same short limbs, which means that it wasn't an evolutionary gaffe, but that the limbs were actually useful. Researchers believe the forelimbs of the T-rex could grab prey with a force of 600 pounds (as long as said prey was really, really nearby).

Raptorex was the tiny terror of its time, and as its competitors went extinct, it evolved into the larger and even more terrifying Tyrannosaurus. Paul Sereno, a paleontologist involved in the project, says it best: "This is a blueprint for a predator: Jaws on legs." Clearly, arms are just an afterthought.

What may be even cooler than the dino itself is the way it was found: The bones were excavated in secret from an ancient lake bed in China, and then smuggled into the United States. The nearly complete fossil was then auctioned to one Mr.Henry Kriegstein, eye surgeon extraordinaire. Realizing the worth of the findings, Kriegstein donated the item back to science on the terms that it was named after his father and returned to China to be placed on exhibit.

This whole thing just reeks of Indiana Jones. Imagine: Evil smugglers have gotten hold of the most mind-blowing scientific find of the century. To protect their treasure, they break the fossil into 23 distinct parts and hide it in a vast, underground maze full of cerebral puzzlers, traps which trigger increasingly complicated ways to die, and, of course, snakes. Do I smell the beginning of an "Indiana Jones and The Smuggled Raptorex" sequel? Hey, at least it wouldn't involve aliens.

Source: National Geographic

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