T-Rex smile: Infamous dinosaur may have had "lizard-like lips"

Mar 30 2023, 9:54 pm

We all have a mental picture of the T-Rex as a scary, teeth-baring monster, but new research suggests that the T-Rex smile could have looked totally different.

According to a press release from the Royal BC Museum, one of its palaeontologists found that the T-Rex had “lizard-like lips.”

In a paper co-authored by Derek Larson from the Royal BC Museum’s palaeontology department, he and an international team of scientists propose that the infamous dinosaur might not look like what we’ve pictured.

“For a long time, researchers have suggested that theropod dinosaurs had exposed teeth like we see with crocodiles, and this has become the pervasive depiction of predatory dinosaurs in films and documentaries,” said Larson.

“Our study overturns that idea and seriously brings into question how we reconstruct what certain dinosaurs look like.”

Researchers looked at modern examples of lip and tooth structure of animal teeth and saw that the “exposed teeth of crocodiles are unique to that group.” So, covered teeth were more probably in extinct animals.

“Our study shows that predatory dinosaur teeth were not atypically large,” said Dr. Thomas Cullen from Auburn University, the study’s lead author.

“Even the giant teeth of tyrannosaurs are proportionately similar in size to those of living predatory lizards, rejecting the idea that their teeth were too big to cover with lips.”

But, the “lips” on a dino are not like the lips on mammals, and certainly some extinct animals had exposed teeth, but not T-Rex and other predators.

These findings could affect the way palaeontologists reconstruct the soft tissue and appearance of dinosaurs and other extinct species in the future, changing how we see dinosaurs entirely.

“Accurately reconstructing an extinct animal has huge implications for inferring the behaviour, diet, and evolution of these organisms,” said Larson.

“Palaeontologists often like to compare extinct animals to their closest living relatives, but in the case of dinosaurs, their closest relatives have been evolutionarily distinct for hundreds of millions of years and today are incredibly specialized. Many of the similarities that they once shared with dinosaurs are long gone,” he said.

You can check out the Royal BC Museum and see one of the specimens examined as part of the study at the T. rex Experience exhibition, opening June 16, 2023.

Sarah AndersonSarah Anderson

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