The fierce, unforgiving time period that was the dinosaur age just got a lot more ferocious. According to new research, a skull of a Daspletosaurus (a genus of tyrannosaur which means “frightful lizard”) displays gruesome injuries inflicted during its lifetime, seemingly caused by another of its species. After it died, it was set upon by a scavenging tyrannosaur in an apparent act of cannibalism.
“We did actually have good evidence that Tyrannosaurus itself was [cannibalistic],” said lead study author David Hone from Queen Mary University of London, “but this is excellent support for the idea and suggests that a few more species were feeding on themselves or near relatives.”
The Daspletosaurus was a close relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and thrived in western North America during the late Cretaceous Period. This particular specimen was not fully grown– the equivalent of an older human teenager– though it was certainly no slouch at over 19 feet long and 1,102 pounds.
It has been documented that teenage tyrannosaurs would engage in battle with one another, and this Daspletosaurus was no exception. Its skull, which was found in Alberta, Canada’s Dinosaur Provincial Park in 1994, showed multiple bites, including one particularly nasty wound that left a puncture in the back of the cranium. However, despite the severity of the injuries, apparently the dino lived to fight another day– there’s no indication that it died in battle with another tyrannosaur.
Hone was among the first to study the 22-inch-long skull, and he and his team believe that the wounds had to be inflicted by another Daspletosaurus, as the only other large carnivores alive in that period were crocodilians. Hone ruled out the crocodile’s ancient ancestors as culprits due to the small size of crocodilian fossils found in the same rock formation as their subject.
Though how it died remains a mystery, what happened to the Daspletosaurus’ body post-mortem adds a gruesome twist to the saga. The preservation of the skull and other bones, along with damage to the jaw revealed that after decay set in, a large tyrannosaur took a bite or two of the corpse, partially devouring it.
While researchers were already somewhat aware of combat and cannibalism between tyrannosaurs, this new discovery is unique because it is evidence of both types of injuries to a single specimen. Needless to say, every bit of fossil evidence helps to gain a broader understanding of the king of the dinosaurs. “Again, this is looking at tyrannosaurs generally and not Tyrannosaurus specifically,” Hone told FoxNews.com. “[There’s] always the danger of extrapolating off a single specimen, so having multiple fossils that show the same general pattern is really important confirmation to build up a solid picture of what is going on.”