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Tyrannosaurs and Hyenas



I know this is probably old news for most of you, but I watched the discovery channel documentary on T-rex and read Horner's book and wanted to write some of my feeling on the matter of scavenging. I'm new here, so let me know if this is something people are tired of discussing.

Those in favor of a scavenging life style for tyrannosaurs often draw a comparison between tyrannosaurids and hyaenids. While it is true that 2 of the 4 hyaenid species are mostly scavengers, the largest member of the family, the spotted hyena, is considered by many to be the most effective and most intelligent predator in Africa. The 2 scavenging species, the brown and striped hyena, are not purely carnivorous. Both scavenging species are actually opportunistic omnivores that supplement their diets with fruits, vegetables and insects. The brown hyena also represents the largest land animal that lives primarily on carrion and it is smaller than the spotted hyena. Is it realistic to claim that a Tyrannosaurus could live primarily on carrion when it was one of the largest land carnivores in the history of the planet, not to mention one of the largest animals in its ecosystem!

It is worth mentioning that the suspected tyrannosaur coprolite is filled with undigested bone fragments. Hyenas, as an adaptation for scavenging, can consume and completely digest bone. The fact that tyrannosaurs lacked the ability to digest bone (like owls) suggests that they were not specialized scavengers. Though they may have chewed smaller animals and certain body parts, I doubt that they made a habit out of swallowing large chunks of bone unless they were able to regurgitate them later. The only large land vertebrates that live entirely on carrion are vultures and other scavenging birds. Since these birds fly and are often much smaller than the predators of their ecosystem, they are hardly analogous to giant 6 ton bipedal theropods.

Now I respect John Horner, but I just don't understand why he keeps pushing the scavenger hypothesis when so many facts are against it. Tyrannosaurus is one the most important fossils because it inspires the minds of children and gets them interested in science. Is there really a point in trying to turn what was a fast and powerful predator into a lumbering scavenger if there is no real evidence for it?

Simeon Koning

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