Paul M. Gignac & Gregory M. Erickson (2017)
The Biomechanics Behind Extreme Osteophagy in Tyrannosaurus rex
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 2012 (2017)
Most carnivorous mammals can pulverize skeletal elements by generating tooth pressures between occluding teeth that exceed cortical bone shear strength, thereby permitting access to marrow and phosphatic salts. Conversely, carnivorous reptiles have non-occluding dentitions that engender negligible bone damage during feeding. As a result, most reptilian predators can only consume bones in their entirety. Nevertheless, North American tyrannosaurids, including the giant (13 metres [m]) theropod dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex stand out for habitually biting deeply into bones, pulverizing and digesting them. How this mammal-like capacity was possible, absent dental occlusion, is unknown. Here we analyzed T. rex feeding behaviour from trace evidence, estimated bite forces and tooth pressures, and studied tooth-bone contacts to provide the answer. We show that bone pulverization was made possible through a combination of: (1) prodigious bite forces (8,526–34,522 newtons [N]) and tooth pressures (718–2,974 megapascals [MPa]) promoting crack propagation in bones, (2) tooth form and dental arcade configurations that concentrated shear stresses, and (3) repetitive, localized biting. Collectively, these capacities and behaviors allowed T. rex to finely fragment bones and more fully exploit large dinosaur carcasses for sustenance relative to competing carnivores.