New Research Suggests That Tyrannosaurus Rex Had No Way to Stick Out Its Tongue

Wednesday, 20 June 2018 - 7:29PM
Wednesday, 20 June 2018 - 7:29PM
New Research Suggests That Tyrannosaurus Rex Had No Way to Stick Out Its Tongue
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Flickr/Marcin Polak
Getting eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex was certainly a problem for various species living during the late Cretaceous period. But at least you wouldn't have to worry about getting slobbered on first.

A new study published in PLOS One examined what we can deduce from prehistoric dinosaurs (specifically their mouths) compared to modern birds and reptiles, and suggests that several known dinos including the T.rex were unable to freely move their tongue around in the same way that their modern descendants can. 

In this sense, the T.rex was remarkably like a modern alligator or crocodile, which also can't move its tongue around and blow raspberries whenever it feels like it. Those are still dangerous predators, but with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom about to hit theaters, this makes the "king of the dinosaurs" feel slightly less threatening.

The researchers came to this conclusion by examining hyoid bones - horseshoe-shaped bones which serve as anchor points for the tongue in many animals - in prehistoric fossils such as pterosaurs and other predators, and comparing the data to the hyoid bones and muscles in more modern fauna. Their goal was to look for possible ways these fossils could have evolved over the years, and this does actually provide some valuable information.

Beyond simply being a fascinating look at how dinosaurs compare to their modern counterparts (gators aside, at least), the researchers suspect it has something to do with flight. As dinosaurs gradually evolved into the birds we know today, there was a loss of dexterity that came with limbs changing into wings. Gaining a more versatile tongue would make up for that in some way.

Supporting this is the fact that unlike the land-bound T. rex, the flying pterosaur fossils had a much greater variety of tongues. Zhiheng Li, the study's lead author and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explained it this way in a press release:

Opening quote
"Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals... If you can't use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food. That is one of the hypotheses that we put forward."
Closing quote

So next time you see a non-flying dinosaur wave its tongue about in a Jurassic Park movie, just assume that's another inaccuracy the story has to hand-wave as simply more frog DNA.
Science News