The 4-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex on display at KU’s Natural History Museum is referred to as a baby, but there is nothing childlike about it.
It has a 15-foot-long body, a 21-inch skull and teeth like serrated steak knives. Archaeologist Alan Detrich describes the dinosaur this way: “A ferocious meat eater. He was going to be dangerous.”
The dinosaur fossil, on display until Dec. 31, has been popular, as it represents a rare opportunity to see a young T. rex, not just a replica of the bones.
“In modern lingo, it should be on everyone’s bucket list,” Leonard Krishtalka, director of the museum, said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is one of the best baby T. rexes in the world.”
The baby Tyrannosaurus is displayed next to an adult T. rex, offering the unique opportunity for guests and researchers to compare the two fossils.
“The only place in the entire world that you can go to see not only a young T. rex, but also an older T. rex, is here at KU,” said paleontologist David Burnham. He is researching and studying the younger Tyrannosaurus fossil at KU.
Why is this baby T. rex so special?
Because T. rexes grew so fast, Burnham said, there is not much evidence of what the growth stages were like for the dinosaur.
“They were like a baby bird who grows fast,” he said. “If they don’t grow rapidly, they don’t fly, and they die.”
The T. rexes needed to reach adulthood as fast as they could to not only survive, but to take down their prey.
Burnham said having this example of a 4-year-old Tyrannosaurus will help researchers understand the life cycle of a T. rex.
“Science and paleontology is live fast, die young, make a pretty corpse,” Detrich said. “That’s what this baby T. rex did — died young and made a pretty corpse.”
Detrich said the fossil was found in a marsh in Hell Creek Formation in Montana, and the dinosaur likely died in a ferocious battle.
“But because he did,” Detrich said, “We’ll learn things that we didn’t know before.”
Detrich and the researchers are learning that other fossils previously classified as “young T. rexes” may actually not be a younger Tyrannosaurus, but rather a Nano-Tyrannosaurus. He said the scientific community has not yet come to an agreement on what these smaller dinosaurs are, but this 4-year-old T. rex should help researchers come to a conclusion.
“It has unique characteristics that will provide enough evidence for scientists to publish new information defining the characteristics of a juvenile rex,” he said.
The fossil has a groove down the lower jaw and different leg proportions than other specimens that had previously been labeled as young Tyrannosauruses.
“Because they grew so fast, we are learning a lot of things that will be hard for people to get a hold of,” Detrich said.
Planning your visit
The KU Natural History Museum, at 1345 Jawhawk Blvd. in Lawrence, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, the museum is open from noon to 4 p.m.
The museum is closed Mondays, in addition to Dec. 23 through Dec. 26.
The last day the young T. rex is scheduled to be on display is Dec. 31.
For more information, visit www.biodiversity.ku.edu/home.