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DINOSAURS

The proper way to eat a Triceratops

  • The T-rex may have feasted on the Triceratops by ripping off its head.HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER/Nate Carroll

  • Tyrannosaurus tugging at the frill of a dead Triceratops.Nate Carroll

It was the greatest showdown of the dinosaur kingdom. The carnivorous apex predator Tyrannosaurus versus the heavily shielded plant-eating Triceratops. But scientists were never quite sure how the fearsome T-rex could penetrate the armored three-horned herbivore when it came time for dinner -- until now.

Denver Fowler and his colleagues at the Museum of the Rockies last week presented the first study done on a collection of bite-scarred fossils to get an idea of how the legendary Tyrannosaurus fed. Gruesomely, Fowler explains, though the work is still in its early stages. By studying consistent sets of bitemarks, Fowler and his team concluded that the T-rex feasted on the Triceratops by popping off its head.

“It's gruesome, but the easiest way to do this was to pull the head off,” Fowler told Nature. Since the bite-marks didn’t show signs of healing, it means they were made when the dino was already dead. Some scars could only have been made if the Triceratops had been decapitated -- in order to get to the nutrient rich neck muscles.

Fowler adds that what he presented was still research-in-progress. Trying to understand the behavior of extinct animals is risky, speculative business but Fowler stands behind his work because of the unprecedented number of samples studied.

“Our study observed the same kinds of marks made on the same skull elements across multiple specimens; hence the same behaviours are being observed repeatedly," he explained their process on his website. "This suggests consistent patterns of behaviour for carcass processing that may characterize Tyrannosaurus feeding strategy."

You can check out the study on Fowler’s site.