Researchers say fossil with tooth proves T. rex was predator
July 16, 2013 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Robert DePalma, left, and David Burnham on right, show the Tyrannosaurus rex tooth.
- Some scientists have argued that dinosaur fed only on dead things
- Researchers say fossil of dinosaur tail with tooth in it proves otherwise
- Tyrannosaurus rex was among top feeders, Kansas paleontologist says
Follow science news from CNN on Twitter and Facebook.
(CNN) -- Was Tyrannosaurus rex a predator or scavenger? The question has been a point of controversy in the scientific community for more than a century.
"You see 'Jurassic Park,' and you see T. rex as this massive hunter and killer, as incredibly vicious. But scientists have argued for 100 years that he was too big and too slow to hunt prey and that he was probably a scavenger, an animal that feeds only on dead things," University of Kansas paleontologist David Burnham said.
Burnham and researcher Robert DePalma got what Burnham described as his "lucky break" when they found the fossil of a duckbill dinosaur's tail with a tooth in it.
"The features of the tooth are like fingerprints, and we were able to identify it as T. rex," he said.
They took the fossil to be analyzed at the University of Kansas and for a CT scan at the local hospital, where the doctor told them, "It's too late for your patient."
But Burnham was thrilled at what the fossilized bones told him about the life of the duckbill.
"We were giddy like schoolkids," he said. "This now returns T. rex as a predator. So the monsters that we see in dinosaurs are real. They did go chasing after things, kill them and eat them. They actively pursued live prey."
The mystery was solved.
"Our evidence is new because we have a T. rex tooth inside a duckbill dinosaur, that bit it so hard and so viciously that the tooth broke off, the duckbill dinosaur got away, and over the next few years, the wound healed," Burnham explained.
He determined that the duckbill lived long after the attack by comparing the time it took for the bone to heal around the wound with studies done on modern animals.
"Before our evidence, everybody was looking at bite marks and tooth punctures on dinosaur bones and using that evidence for both theories of predation and scavenging. They were using the same bit of evidence to argue both sides," Burnham said.
"The monsters that we see in dinosaurs are real," says paleontologist David Burnham.
For Burnham, the discovery brought to life the behaviors of these legendary creatures and proved the T. rex's place in the prehistoric world.
"Here is T. rex, one of the biggest animals ever known, 5-foot-long skull, 40 feet long nose to tail and weighed 7 tons. What were these guys doing in the ecosystem? Now we know they were the top feeders."
The full study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
More science news: Why geologist tasted 2.6 billion-year-old water
Part of complete coverage on
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
For the first time, scientists have created human lungs in a lab -- an exciting step forward in regenerative medicine.
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Tiny rocket-shaped metal particles might one day take a wild ride inside your body.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Ten years ago on New Year's Eve, Dennis Aabo Sorensen was launching fireworks when a defective rocket blew up. He was rushed to the hospital, and his left hand was amputated.
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
There is a light show in the ocean that you can't see, but many fish can. There's quite a display of neon greens, reds, and oranges going on underneath the surface.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0053 GMT (0853 HKT)
One trillionth of a second after the Big Bang is the timeframe that physicist Joe Incandela knows well.
November 26, 2013 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
Scientists have uncovered archaeological evidence of when Buddha's monumentally influential life occurred.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
November 3, 2013 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Four top environmental scientists raised the stakes Sunday in their fight to reverse climate change and save the planet.
October 18, 2013 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
A new study suggests that a group of marine species with claw-like structures emerging from their heads were related to spiders and scorpions.
October 19, 2013 -- Updated 1604 GMT (0004 HKT)
The most complete early human skull has been found in the European country Georgia.
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT)
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
Today's five most popular stories