This dinosaur might have been three distinct species, according to paleontologists.

Sing with us: “Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination, and when he’s tall he’s what we call a dinosaur sensation.”

Speaking of dinosaurs, oh, singing rather, then Barney appears to be a Tyrannosaurus rex. This species of dinosaur is bar none the most popular and sort after dinosaur fossil. Featured in museums, movies, comics, and kids’ shows — remembering Barney And Friends,’ y’all ‘90s kids. However, according to paleontologists, T. rex might have belonged to a dynasty of species. This is not just one species, not even two, but three distinct species of dinosaur. By the end of the article, you’ll find out what species Barney is.


Related media: There’s A New Tyrannosaurus In Town


A Tale Of Tyrannosauruses

A trio of researchers proposed splitting T. rex into three distinct species: namely, Tyrannosaurus imperator (tyrant lizard emperor) and Tyrannosaurus regina (tyrant lizard queen), alongside T. rex (tyrant lizard king). Although the proposal has been declined by other paleontologists. Between roughly 68 and 66 million years ago, T. rex was thought of as an apex predator trekking the North American continent. The first fossils were found over a century ago, however, very few of these skeletons were found.

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus | artist concept of Tyrannosaurus

According to Scott Persons at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, more have come to light since the 1990s. What he means is that it is now possible to analyze fossils and determine whether they fall into a single species or not. Persons, together with two other colleagues, Jay Van Raalte, and independent researcher Gregory Paul, analyzed 38 fossils of T. rex.

The trio focused on two particular features: the number of front teeth in the lower jaw versus the stoutness of the thigh bones. And, of course, they found variations with both features. For this reason, they justified that splitting the dinosaur into three distinct species was a call for action. The first species — which they found four distinctly small incisors at the front of the lower jaw with also stout thighs — were categorized in the new species T. imperator.

Image: | illustration of Tyrannosaurus

From this species, the trio believes, evolved into two younger species. Both of them had just two small incisors at the front of the lower jaw. One of them had slender thighs and was lightly built and was called T. regina. But the second younger species had stout thighs and was heavily built. This species was the one that retained the name T. rex.



Is It Imperator, Regina, Or Still Rex?

“There will be those who say you’re naming them just because it’s intrinsically fun and cool to name a new Tyrannosaurus,” says Persons, although he argues that their decision is justified.

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus | artist concept of the three distinct species of Tyrannosaurus

According to Persons, modern ecosystems prove that apex predators evolve and diversify into distinct species, for instance, lions and domestic cats. It is very likely to believe that Tyrannosaurus did so, too. Famously known Tyrannosaurus fossils like SueTyrannosaurus skeleton at the Field Museum in Chicago, is T. imperator, whereas Stan, a fossil that sold for $32 million in 2020 to a private buyer, is T. regina. This proposal is expected to raise debates.

“I think the authors have made a case that there are anatomical changes in the genus that seem to [change] with time,” says Philip Currie at the University of Alberta, Canada. “That is pretty amazing in itself.”

But others will need more persuading.

“I understand the temptation to divide T. rex into different species,” says Stephen Brusatte at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, “because there is some variation in the fossil bones that we have. But ultimately, to me, this variation is very minor. Until I see much stronger evidence, these are all still T. rex to me,” he added.



Is There Enough Evidence?

In a 2020 in-depth analysis of T. rex, paleontologist Thomas Carr at Carthage College in Wisconsin stated that his analysis was structured to spot patterns in the data, but found nothing significantly compelling to make him justify that there was more than a single species. So he also thinks evidence from the new paper isn’t justified.

“I just think they’re seeing what they want to see,” he says.

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus | Sue, the Tyrannosaurus skeleton at Field Museum in Chicago

The trio’s analysis included data from fossils kept at the Black Hills Institute (BHI) of Geological Research — a private company based in South Dakota. An issue Carr finds a problem with. He argues that the trio should have analyzed data from public collections because these are the only specimen that will always be available for further scientific studies. The possibility of a fossil in a private collection being sold to someone who wouldn’t allow it scientifically studied is likely possible. The BHI was the former home of Stan before the 2020 auction.

“On the other hand, eliminate all those [BHI] specimens from the sample and it is not possible to assess the taxonomy of Tyrannosaurus,” Paul says, it is a significant problem.

He added that their new analysis might reduce the likelihood of fossils being sold in the future. Pointing to the fact that a T. rex housed in a private collection named T. imperator or T. regina would less likely appeal to potential buyers.


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Mar 20, 2022.

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