Combat and cannibalism in dinosaurs

Artists reconstruction of one Daspletosaurus feeding on another. Image: copyright,Tuomas Koivurinne

Researchers have found evidence of cannibalism among dinosaurs related to Tyrannosaurus Rex.

They studied numerous injuries to the head of a Daspletosaurus which were likely inflicted by another Daspletosaurus.

The findings of the study provide evidence of combat between two large carnivores as well as one feeding on another after death.

Daspletosaurus was a large carnivore which lived in Canada and was only a little smaller than its more famous cousin Tyrannosaurus.

Like other tyrannosaurs it was most likely both an active predator and scavenger.

The individual studied, from Alberta, was not fully grown, more an older teenager in human terms. It would have been just under six metres long and around 500 kg when it died.

Researchers found numerous injuries on the skull. Although not all of them can be attributed to bites, several are close in size and shape to the teeth of tyrannosaurs.

One bite to the back of the head had broken off part of the skull and left a circular tooth-shaped puncture though the bone. Indications of healing means the injuries were not fatal and the animal lived for some time after they were inflicted.

David Hone from the University of London said: “This animal clearly had a tough life suffering numerous injuries across the head including some that must have been quite nasty. The most likely candidate to have done this is another member of the same species, suggesting some serious fights.”

There is no evidence that the animal died at the hands (or mouth) of another tyrannosaur.

However, the preservation of the skull and other bones, and damage to the jaw bones, show that after the specimen began to decay, a large tyrannosaur (possibly of the same species) bit into the animal and presumably ate at least part of it.

Combat between large carnivorous dinosaurs is already known and there is already evidence for cannibalism in various groups, including tyrannosaurs.

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