For decades, paleontologists and dinosaur aficionados alike have debated what is the greatest land-dwelling carnivore of all time. In the 1 corner, there’s Tyrannosaurus rex, the terror of prehistoric North The united states. In the other, Giganotosaurus — an equally significant dinosaur that stalked ancient Patagonia, and 1 of the last of an amazing lineage that dominated for tens of hundreds of thousands of decades ahead of tyrannosaurs rose to prominence.
To paleontologists, Giganotosaurus and its relatives are classified as carcharodontosaurs. Their name suggests “shark-toothed lizard,” proven by the discovery of Carcharodontosaurus alone in 1931. But even as industry experts name new species from the U.S., Europe, South The united states, Africa, and Asia, these momentous meat-eaters can under no circumstances pretty appear to be to step out of the shadow of tyrannosaurs. That’s a shame. For hundreds of thousands of decades, the problem was the other way about.
Location the Variances
Giganotosaurus skeleton mount at the Fernbank Museum of All-natural Heritage in Atlanta, Georgia. (Credit history: Jonathan Chen/Wikimedia Commons)
On the surface, 1 big, big-toothed dinosaur might appear to be the similar as yet another. “If you just glance at a Carcharodontosaurus, you might think it is a T. rex,” claims College of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte. Both equally walked on two legs, experienced modest arms and were geared up with potent jaws complete of menacing teeth. But, inspected much more carefully, these carnivores are quite distinctive.
The teeth of T. rex, for illustration, are comparatively thick. Brusatte phone calls them “banana-shaped pegs.” But carcharodontosaurs received their name from teeth that were thinner from facet-to-facet and arrived to a sharper issue, much better for reducing flesh than pulverizing bone. Similarly, notes paleontologist Elena Cuesta, the skulls of carcharodontosaurs never have as numerous air pockets within — the shark-tooths’ skulls appear to be to be a little much better, allowing them produce potent bites.
Some variations in the neck vertebrae, as well, point out that the shark-toothed hunters experienced a little much more neck agility than T. rex, most likely working with potent neck muscles to help put excess electricity driving their chomps. This difference in agility extends to the basic construct of each dinosaur, as well. T. rex is a bulkier, heavier dinosaur that in all probability wasn’t in a position to shift pretty so speedy, while carcharodontosaurs have skulls and body proportions that are a little much more svelte and significantly less burly.
And while T. rex was a dinosaur suited to produce bone-crushing bites and thoroughly choose aside carcasses, carcharodontosaurs may well have been professionals in using down and tearing aside the extensive-necked dinosaurs they lived together with. These distinctive carnivorous patterns are on display between animals even these days, these as these among spotted hyenas and lions.
Concavenator corcovatus working with its hump as a thermoregulatory system, absorbing sunlight in the heat of a early morning sunrise. (Credit history: Emily Willoughby/Wikimedia Commons)
In excess of time, both tyrannosaurs and carcharodontosaurs thrived in the Mesozoic globe, but in a back again-and-forth dance that performed out more than time and house. The earliest tyrannosaurs were modest, raptorlike animals that evolved about 160 million decades back. They lived underneath the ft of larger sized carnivores like Allosaurus, a stand-in for what the ancestors of carcharodontosaurs were like. The shark-toothed dinosaurs, by distinction, continued the trend of their allosaur ancestors and grew to become the dominant carnivores more than substantially of the world for the duration of the Early Cretaceous.
To day, the earliest trace of the carcharodontosaurs comes from southeastern Romania. It’s a tooth believed to be much more than 132 million decades aged, from the earliest part of the Cretaceous, and experienced beforehand been misidentified as that of a distinctive carnivorous dinosaur. The similar occurred to a much more full uncover in Interior Mongolia. Paleontologists experienced uncovered the bones of a significant carnivore that experienced some thing of an identity disaster — some industry experts noticed it as an allosaur, many others as a tyrannosaur, and some considered it was a raptor. But in 2009, Brusatte and colleagues redescribed the fossil as the oldest definitive carcharodontosaur, which they referred to as Shaochilong.
Other finds have stacked up in modern decades. Some of these carnivores were definitely massive, with Giganotosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus getting comparable to Tyrannosaurus in dimension. Some were more compact but bore bizarre ornaments. Acrocanthosaurus from the U.S., and Concavenator from Spain, bore elevated spines together their backs that supported sail-like structures. No 1 is pretty absolutely sure why these ornaments evolved. But 1 factor is clear: These dinosaurs lived significant at a time when the ancestors of T. rex were meek and modest, and they may well have enormously affected the record of other carnivores.
“There was absolutely nothing unavoidable about the increase of tyrannosaurs,” Brusatte claims. In fact, it would seem that the carcharodontosaurs held them back again. Think about some modern finds from the desert of japanese Utah. Paleontologists not too long ago located a human-sized tyrannosaur named Moros from these rocks. At about the similar time, there roamed Siats — a carcharodontosaur about the dimension of a college bus. Here, and in other spots about the globe, the shark-toothed hunters took more than the big apex predator market initially and saved other hunters out.
“It would seem like tyrannosaurs exploded to large dimension only right after the carcharodontosaurs went extinct, or grew to become substantially significantly less widespread,” Brusatte claims.
The dominance of the carcharodontosaurs may well have also confined the growth of tyrannosaurs into the Southern Hemisphere. To day, the only evidence of these tyrants under the equator is a questionable fossil from Australia. It may well be, Cuesta claims, that carcharodontosaurs and other significant predators — these as the weird, horned abelisaurids — may well have prevented tyrannosaurs from attaining a claw maintain. The image may well change with new finds. “The fossil report is annoyingly patchy and incomplete,” Cuesta claims, but the latest sample signifies that tyrannosaurs needed other significant carnivores to get out of the way ahead of they could choose more than that job among eighty million and sixty six million decades back.
In spite of their great importance to ancient food stuff webs, while, paleontologists are really just receiving to know these titanic hunters. They will have to have hunted and fed in a distinctive way than tyrannosaurs — their skeletons make that clear. But, Brusatte notes, “I’d adore to know if carcharodontosaurs really did hunt the colossal titanosaurian sauropods,” or enormous extensive-necked dinosaurs that occupied the similar habitats.
Even the significant dimension of these animals raises a secret: If carcharodontosaurs, tyrannosaurs, and some other theropods maxed out about the 40-foot mark, does this depict some sort of biological limit to how big big carnivores can be? The tale continues to be in the bones, which convey to the tale of some of the most monstrous predators of all time.