Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Our dinosaurs are different

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Terribly late, today – I’ve been writing, because as I said, the sprint for House of the Gods is on. NaNoWriMo has nothing on ditching 20.000 words in a 35.000 words draft and having to rewrite the lot in two weeks.
But I am making it – even if I find it a bit taxing, physically.

But anyway – one thing I’m having fun with is, of all things, the good old Tyrannosaurus rex. Because really, you can’t write a novel featuring dinosaurs and leave old T rex *out of it.
*Iconic
‘s the word.
But why not have fun with it?

t-rex_2

And the best way to have fun with the old T rex is, believe it or not, through science.

For starters there’s the size.
I’m playing fast and loose with the size. While the Mesozoic Tyrannosaurus rex was a huge beast indeed when we project it forward for sixty-five million years and let a few survive in our standard lost world/hidden valley/hollow earth, we have to account for evolution and adaptation during those sixty-five million years. And sure, we get a very stable environment and all that.
But that’s the same that happened to sharks – and their size got smaller1.
Smaller Tyrannosaurus rex sounds a bit of a let down – I mean, we’ve got velociraptors for that sort of stuff, right?

trex-height

Well… what if T Rex was not a solitary hunter?
There’s quite a bit of research in dinosaur behaviour and on the Rex in particular that seems to point out that Tyrannosaurus rex was a gregarious animal. A pack hunter.
Which is quite fun, if you tink of it in narrative terms, because it means that you no longer have the classic man vs rex situation, but you have a man vs coordinated band of rexes hunting together situation*.
Just like a pack of wolves, but pretty big2, scaly and… well, dinosaurs.

trex_pack_hunter__by_grobles63-d3a9vrr

Or maybe it’s more like a pack of hyenas?
Because you see, some of the research seems to point in the direction of the rexes being scavengersor at least opportunistic scavengers.
Which is exactly what I like: big scary pack-hunters that also eat carrion.
It opens a whole set of scenarios, don’t you think?

th18-trex-brsc_1521302f

And it also makes them venomous.
Because some researchers recently noted that given the shape and geometric distribution of the T rex teeth, it was very very likely that all sorts of bits and pieces from their meals would just stick there, and rot. This would not only make the rexes the perfect poster boys for the “Before” advertisement of Listerine, but would add foul breath and infective, poisonous bite to their already impressive array of weapons.

And then the arms!
I mean, they’ve been mocked for sixty-five million years for their short arms, right?
Well, according to anatomical and biomechanical studies, the thin arms on a rex could still lift about one hundred pounds.
Which is not bad at all, right.

But of course, why should a Tyrannosaurus rex embrace you, when it can bite your head off?

813266302148042132

The only thing I’m going soft, in my scientifically-reasonable reimagining the Tyrannosaurus rex for my novel, is the feathers.
It’s ok for me to have them roaring and chirping and twittering and what else, their fangs dripping with venom, a whole pack of them… but no, no feathers.
There is a limit where even a palaeontologist must draw the line.


  1. granted, there is a theory that a few dozen Carcharodon megalodon, old, cranky and very big are alive and well in the depths of the oceans, but let’s talk about general trends, ok? 
  2. and still bigger than ‘raprors. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Our dinosaurs are different

  1. I have to say I share your stand on feathers. πŸ™‚ I’ll complain if I see a supposedly accurate illustration of a T-Rex without feathers, but in comics or movies I have an irrational attachment to scales. Guess it’s that primordial instinct in us that sees scaled critters as dangerous, while feathered ones are usually food.

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    • Good point – I find something inherently ridiculous about a feathered T rex, my mind keeps repeating “big angry chicken”.
      I can imagine some good narrative uses for feathered dinos, but in an action/adventure story I think the scaly beasts just work better.
      (but I did put a few transitional dinosaurs in my story – and some other weirdness)

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  2. By the way, here’s something I found that supports our ‘fear the scales’ theory πŸ™‚ http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/09/venomous-deadliest-creatures-cure-christie-wilcox/

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