Tyrannosaurus Rex: The Once and Future King

Tyrannosaurus Rex: The Once and Future King

The king is dead. Long live the king!

Tyrannosaurus rex is still the biggest, baddest land predator of all time. It was the size of a city bus, with a head almost as long as Tom Cruise is tall and a smile every bit as devastating. Scientists are just as smitten as the rest of us.

After T. rex was first described in 1905, the world’s most charismatic megafossil could have turned out to be a mere curiosity. There was no guarantee more would be found, nor could anyone anticipate how interesting its history would turn out to be. But for more than 100 years, T. rex has been an extraordinary gift to the study of dinosaurs, and perhaps to science in general.

Recently, the pace of discovery has quickened, and many of the findings about T. rex, the other tyrannosaurs who were its relatives and the prehistoric lives they led will be celebrated with “T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator,” a new exhibit opening March 11 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

In June, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington will reopen its hall of fossils, crowned in glory with its own T. rex in a new stance.

Other researchers, like Philip J. Currie, a dinosaur paleobiologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, agreed that the field has exploded. “More is going on now than ever,” he said. When he started in the 1970s, “there were probably only six of us in the world who were paid” specifically to study dinosaurs.

It could be said that T. rex lucked out. But then, it ruled at the very time 65 million years ago when all the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct.

Envy always follows royalty. And Dr. Brusatte said there is some resentment that T. rex draws so much attention and so many paleontologists.

“People who study non-dinosaurs say dinosaurs get all the attention,” he said. “People who study dinosaurs say theropods get all the attention. People who study theropods, say, oh, tyrannosaurs get all the attention.”

And among tyrannosaurs, there is only one star, the king. But there’s a reason T. rex gets so much attention.

“It deserves it,” Dr. Currie said.

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