T. Rex's Pulverizing Bite Force Equaled The Weight Of Three Cars

The terrifying skull of a T. rex. Marques/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 17 May 2017, 14:26

Did you know that if a Tyrannosaurus rex tripped over while running at full speed, it would fall so quickly and so far that it would smash its own skull on the ground? Without any proper arms to break its clumsy descent, any stumble would have doomed these befeathered beasts.

It’s information like this – perhaps along with the fact that it’s one of the “good guys” in Jurassic World – that has made the T. rex a little less frightening than it once was. However, as a new study in Scientific Reports has revealed, its bite force was as much as 8,000 pounds (about 36,000 newtons), which would be the equivalent of three stacked cars collapsing on something. So maybe it’s deserving of our fear after all.

Estimating the bite force of various extinct dinosaurs isn’t as easy as you may think. Without being able to measure it in real life, paleontologists rely on incomplete and fragmented fossils without the original muscle structures surrounding them.

It can be done, though. Just recently, a research group concluded that the humble Stegosaurus had a bite force matching that of a cow or a sheep. By turning the skulls into 3D models, the team “filled in” the missing muscles digitally, and simulated the bite force of three different Stegosaurus species to come up with their answer.

This team, from Florida State University (FSU) and Oklahoma State University, took a different approach. They looked at the bite force of living crocodiles and birds, and worked backwards. Birds are the living descendants of theropod dinosaurs, the group that contained the mighty T. rex. Crocodiles belonged to the Archosaurs, a truly ancient lineage that also contains pterosaurs, birds, and all other dinosaurs.

The digital reconstruction of the T. rex's skull, muscles and all. Gignac & Erickson, 2017/Scientific Reports

By analyzing bite strengths of various crocodiles and birds, the team constructed a model for the T. rex, and found not only was its bite far stronger than anyone had previously thought – an earlier estimate placed it at around 3 times less powerful – but its sharp, conical teeth all individually produced 431,000 pounds per square inch (over 1.9 million newtons) of bone-annihilating pressure.

That, by the way, is roughly 162 cars stacked on top of one another. It is this tooth design, and not the overall bite strength, that allowed this famous dinosaur to literally pulverize the bones of its prey, a capacity known as extreme osteophagy.

Modern crocodiles, whose bite is the strongest of any living animal, don’t even come close. Their overall bite force is just under half that of a T. rex’s. For a point of further comparison, you – a measly human – would have a bite strength of around 200 pounds per square inch (890 newtons), which is 40 times weaker than the T. rex’s chomp.

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