Tarbosaurus a successful killer


Meet Tarbosaurus bataar

His name means ‘the heroic alarming reptile’.  He was a giant carnivorous theropod dinosaur that lived in Mongolia at the very end of the Cretaceous period, somewhere between 65 and 70 million years ago. He was a member of a very famous family of carnivorous dinosaurs called the tyrannosaurids. Now I’m sure you’re familiar with his much more famous cousin Tyrannosaurus rex, who lived in North America at about the same time. Like T. rex, and all other tyrannosaurs, Tarbosaurus has a disproportionately big head, very thick bull-dog s-shaped neck, pathetically short little front arms with only two functional digits and he walked on powerful back legs with three big toes and a little toe that was always held off the ground.

Now Tarbosaurus and tyrannosaurs in general were meat eating dinosaurs, but their teeth are kind of odd compared to other meat eaters. Looking at the tooth of a typical meat eating dinosaur, like say Allosaurus or Deinonychus, which we have also got on display, all their teeth in their mouth are kind of the same, and if you chopped one in cross-section, like slice it in half, it would be rather narrow. So most meat eating dinosaurs had a mouth full of steak knives.

Tyrannosaurs like Tarbosaurus were doing something different. Teeth at the front, very tip of the snout, cut them in cross-section, they looked a bit like a D, a letter D, with the flat pointing inwards. So these formed effectively a cookie cutter at the front of the mouth, used to chomping off bits of flesh, the way a trowel goes through dirt. Teeth in the rest of the jaw, like this one here, are very broad and thick in cross-section so it was as if T. rex and Tarbosaurus had a cookie cutter at front of the mouth, and great big railway spikes or giant bony bananas in the rest of the mouth. So it obviously had the front of the jaw adapted for nipping off big chunks of meat, while the back teeth were for splintering bones and pulping flesh. So this was a dinosaur that was much better at crushing through bone and thick flesh and thick hide than other meat eating dinosaurs.

Tarbosaurus is one of a group of dinosaurs that lived in the same time and same place in what is now present day Mongolia – it is called the Nemegt fauna. As we can see Tarbosaurus is the only big meat eater of the Nemegt fauna, so he pretty much had the run of the place to himself. However that doesn’t mean life was easy for Tarbosaurus. First off we know that tyrannosaurs often fought each other. Tyrannosaurs from North America often have horrific facial injuries inflicted from bites from other tyrannosaurs, and there is no reason to think that Tarbosaurus was any more of a pacifist. Secondly, all big dinosaurs had to come from little dinosaurs straight out of the egg. So when Tarbosaurus was a little baby I’m sure he would have been fair game for some of the smaller predators, and thirdly, his prey. Well, these are some of his potential prey animals and they’re either faster than he was, bigger than he was, or very heavily armed.

He had giant sauropod dinosaurs like Nemegtosaurus that would have taken an awful lot of effort to bring down. There are animals like Gallimimus which is also on display, which could have easily outrun Tarbosaurus, and then we have heavily armed plant eaters like Therizinosaurus and Deinocheirus which had enormous claws on their forelimbs and heavily armored ankylosaurs like Tarchia which is relative of the Talarurus which is currently on display which had both heavily fortified armored plates that would have made a pretty tough mouthful and a savage thick club on the tail which could have inflicted serious injuries. So Tarbosaurus would’ve had to have really worked to get a meal.

About this Video

Museum Victoria’s Brian Choo talks about what makes Tarbosaurus a successful killer.
Length: 03:44

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