The Tyrannosaurus rex wasn’t one to waste its food. With the help of its powerful jaw, the dinosaur king ripped apart and gobbled up its prey’s bones, in addition to any juicier bits.
The T. rex could chow down with nearly 8,000 pounds of force, equal to the weight of three small cars, scientists found in a new study published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports.
That’s more than double the bite force of the largest living crocodile, which is the bite force champion of the modern era.
That’s not all. The tips of the T. rex’s long conical teeth could generate a whopping 431,000 pounds per square inch of bone-crushing tooth pressure, according to the study.
In other words, a bite from a T. rex could shatter bones like a “.45-caliber bullet with a mushroom head,” paleontologist Gregory Erickson, the study’s co-author and a curator at Florida State University’s Biological Science Museum, told the Washington Post.
Scientists have long known that the T. rex could eat bones, as shown by fragments found in fossilized dinosaur dung. But they didn’t exactly know how. While this bone-pulverizing ability is seen in living meat-eating mammals like wolves and hyenas, it’s unusual for reptiles, which don’t have the teeth needed to strip prey down to the marrow.
The T. rex’s terrifying teeth gave it a major advantage over other prehistoric reptiles.
“It was this bone-crunching acumen that helped T. rex to more fully exploit the carcasses of large horned-dinosaurs and duck-billed hadrosaurids whose bones, rich in mineral salts and marrow, were unavailable to smaller, less equipped carnivorous dinosaurs,” Paul Gignac, a study co-author and an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, said in a press release.
For the study, Gignac and Erickson modeled and tested how the jaw muscles of living crocodiles, which are close relatives of dinosaurs, contributed to their bite force. They next compared the results with those of birds — the modern-day dinosaur — and produced a model for the T. rex.
But bite force alone didn’t explain how the T. rex could puncture or smash through bones. Their teeth also played an important role.
“It is like assuming a 600-horsepower engine guarantees speed,” Erickson said in a press release. “In a Ferrari, sure, but not for a dump truck.”
The two paleontologists sought to understand how the ancient reptile’s bite force was transmitted through the teeth, a measurement they called tooth pressure. They did so by calculating the pressure exerted on bones caught between the dinosaur’s teeth.
The authors said their study is the first to examine the pressure exerted by dinosaur tooth formations.