Tyrannosaurs: the ‘tyrant lizards’

16 October, 2011

<i>Tyrannosaurus rex </i>(colour illustration)
Tyrannosaurus rex (colour illustration)
Image: Kate Nolan (Illustrator)
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: How many kinds of Tyrannosaurs were there?

Answer: Easily the best-known dinosaur of all is the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, the Hollywood star and once thought to be the largest meat-eating (or 'theropod') dinosaur.

T. rex has lost its crown of 'biggest and baddest'; newer discoveries have shown even larger predatory dinosaurs lived in Africa. Irrespective of the record-holding status, T. rex remains the best-know of its kind – but it was just one species of a large family of theropods, called collectively Family Tyrannosauiridae, or Tyrannosaurids for short (technically that is one letter shorter!).

All these dinosaurs had much the same general body shape. They were bipedal carnivores – meat eaters that walked on two legs. They had with massive skulls equipped with sharp teeth, but their arms were pitifully small.

Despite this basic template, the different species varied in size – Alioramus, for example, was probably only 4-5 metres long and stood about the same height as an adult human, whereas the "king', Tyrannosaurus rex, could have been there times that size.

Opinions vary amongst palaeontologists as to how many genera of dinosaurs were in the family Tyrannosauridae – some say there were as few as three genera, others say as many as nine. In any case, all of these Tyrannosaurids lived in the latter half of the Cretaceous Era, between 100 and 65 million years ago, including Melbourne Museum's own Teenage Terror from Mongolia, the adolescent TarbosaurusTyrannosaurus in all but name.

Until very recently, all known Tyrannosaurids came from North America or Asia – a concept that was challenged by the recent discovery of a fossil bone found near the famous Dinosaur Cove here in Victoria.

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