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07/02/2019 - T. rex: Flexible Head

Tübingen, 02/06/2019. Senckenberg scientist Ingmar Werneburg, together with an international team, re-examined the skull structure of Tyrannosaurus rex. Using an “anatomical network analysis,” the researchers showed that the carnivorous dinosaur had an extremely flexible skull structure. Different bone modules led to a highly flexible muzzle that aided in tearing apart prey animals. The study was published today in the journal “Scientific Reports.” 

Tyrannosaurus rex – the “King of the Tyrant Lizards” – owes its name in part to its impressive teeth and skull. The latter was subject to closer scrutiny by an international team of scientists from Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Spain, and the USA. “We compared the skull of T. rex with the skull construction of modern terrestrial vertebrates and used an ’anatomical network analysis‘ to examine, which skull bones are connected to each other,” explains the study’s lead author, PD Dr. Ingmar Werneburg of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen.

The analysis revealed that, among all groups of animals analyzed in the study, the large carnivore possessed the highest number of “skull modules” – skull bones that form units with adjacent bones. This resulted in a particularly high mobility of the skull. “We were most surprised to discover the presence of separate upper and lower muzzle modules, which probably could move independent of each other,” adds the scientist from Tübingen.

 The researchers hypothesize that the feeding habits of Tyrannosaurus rex may have led to the complexity of its skull. The division into a lower and an upper muzzle module may have provided a certain amount of flexibility to the tooth-bearing part of the muzzle that aided in the forceful tearing-apart of prey animals. “This trait, combined with teeth anchored within tooth pockets and two large temporal fenestrae (openings) as attachment points for the strong jaw muscles, made T. rex the ‘ideal carnivore,’ adds Werneburg in summary.

Ingmar Werneburg, Borja EsteveAltava, Joana Bruno, Marta Torres
Ladeira & Rui Diogo (2019): Unique skull network complexity of
Tyrannosaurus rex among land vertebrates. Scientific Reports
volume 9, Article number: 1520
(2019) | DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-

PD Dr. Ingmar Werneburg
Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP)
Eberhard Karls University
Phone 07071 2973068

Judith Jördens
Press Office
Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung
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To study and understand nature with its unlimited diversity of living creatures and to preserve and manage it in a sustainable fashion as the basis of life for future generations  –  that  has  been  the  goal  of  the  Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Nature Research Society) for the past 200 years. This integrative “geobiodiversity research” and the dissemination of research and science are among Senckenberg’s primary tasks. Three nature museums in Frankfurt, Görlitz and Dresden display the diversity of life and the earth’s development over millions of years. The Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Senckenberg Nature Museum in Frankfurt is supported by the City of Frankfurt am Main as well as numerous other partners. Additional information can be found at www.senckenberg.de


The University of Tübingen is one of eleven universities in Germany that were recognized as excellent. Within the life sciences, it provides top-of-the-line research in the fields of neurosciences, translational immunology and cancer research, microbiology and infectious disease research, as well as molecular biology. Additional research emphasis is given to geo- and environmental research, archeology and anthropology, language and cognition, and education and media. More than 28,400 students from all over the word are currently enrolled at the University of Tübingen, where they can choose among approximately 300 study courses – from Egyptology to  Cellular Neurosciences

T. rex had an unusually flexible skull.
Photo: Senckenberg


The skull of T. rex was compared to
the skulls of an opossum, a chicken, 
and a turtle, among others. Thecolors indicate different skull modules. Illustration: Werneburg

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11/07/2019 08:29:34

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10/07/2019 08:05:12