It’s hard to imagine an ancient creature that would terrify you more than a tyrannosaur. The mighty Tyrannosaurus rex is the most icon of all the dinosaurs but it’s just one member of a larger family of carnivorous dinosaurs referred to as tyrannosaurs. Many of them were massive in size and while debate continues to rage over whether or not they were active hunters or primarily scavengers, they are almost always depicted in both fictional and historic light as being solitary. Now, new research published in PeerJ suggests that this might not have been the case, and it’s possible that tyrannosaurs regularly hunted in groups, as a pack.
This finding is based on the discovery of a handful of tyrannosaur skeletons found in the same location in a lakebed where the animals are presumed to have drowned. Their remains were fossilized as a group, and researchers suggest that the animals were actually engaging in social hunting when flooding swept them away and led to their deaths. If this is indeed the case, it could rewrite what we know about how these ancient carnivores lived their lives.
The find itself is remarkable. Tyrannosaur fossils aren’t exactly the kind of thing you find in your backyard, and to find four or five of them in the same location is incredibly fortunate. The fact that these five dinosaurs were all hanging out in the same location at the same time may indicate that the animals were more social than previously thought, and if they were hunting together they would have been a truly fearsome force of nature.
It was once believed that tyrannosaurs and dinosaurs in general weren’t social like many modern animals. In the case of carnivores like tyrannosaurs, their brains were so small that scientists originally thought they weren’t capable of advanced social behaviors like pack hunting. This discovery might be evidence that the carnivores did indeed group up to hunt their prey, but actually proving that this was the case will be incredibly difficult.
There are other reasons why the dinosaurs may have been grouped up in a single location, including the possibility that they were victims of poisoning after drinking from a contaminated water source or perhaps even that they were killed by a wildfire. The researchers note that charcoal is also present near the fossil location, and a fire could have actually forced the animals to group up, trapping them and eventually suffocating or burning them to death. Despite these possibilities, the researchers seem fairly confident that their theory of a deadly flooding event holds the most water.
It’s obviously very difficult to study animals that are no longer around, especially when we have no comparable living relatives to observe. Tyrannosaurs may have been pack hunters, and if they were it would have been incredible to see them in action. Unfortunately, short of a Jurassic Park-esque resurrection, we’ll never know for sure.