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Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus

Our current exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families features an impressive Tarbosaurus skeleton. Author Dave Hone tells us more about the Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus dinosaur species.

  • Tarbosaurus, Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements
    Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements

'Probably everyone has at least passing familiarity with Tyrannosaurus, but this is only one of some thirty species that make up the tyrannosaur 'family'.

This group of dinosaurs was around for 100 million years and became the dominant carnivores in North America and Asia (and perhaps Europe, though fossils here are scarce) in the Late Cretaceous period, from around 100-65 million years ago. Starting at a small size, the earliest tyrannosaurs were just a few meters long but they evolved to produce 12m-long, 5 ton giants.

Some of the Asian tyrannosaurs are the most interesting, including lightly-built fast runners with narrow heads and the huge Tarbosaurus from Mongolia (a specimen of which is on display in the Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition) which is one of the closest relatives of Tyrannosaurus.

Some of these bigger tyrannosaurs had numerous adaptations in their skulls to deliver a bone-crushing bite. The bones of their heads were especially thick, they had huge sites for attaching powerful jaw muscles and their teeth were much thicker than those of other carnivorous dinosaurs - to better resist the massive forces going through them.

Take a look at a Tarbosaurus and it is also clear that the giant tyrannosaurs were somewhat built around the head. The neck is short but very strong and the body is stocky - there's a lot of support there to help hold of that great skull.

And although the legs are long, the arms are very small because they probably got very little use. Even so, this was clearly a successful body plan which lasted for millions of years.

Had the mass extinction not hit, it is likely the tyrannosaurs would have endured and diversified further. We should be grateful that we have any record at all of them. This magnificent and fascinating group are a great example of what we can learn about the dinosaurs and their lost world.’

Dave Hone is the author of Tyrannosaurus Chronicles published by Bloomsbury.