Paleontologists have known for years that Tyrannosaurus Rex and other closely related theropods had jagged teeth to help them chew through flesh. But close inspection of crack-like features at the base of these serrations has revealed there’s more to these fearsome teeth than previously believed.
Scientists had noticed these “cracks” before, but they figured they were the result of general wear and tear, not some specialized feature. But new research by Kristin Brink, a post-doc researcher at the University of Toronto Mississauga, suggests these unusual structures made it easier for theropods to rip through the flesh and bones of larger animals—an adaptation that allowed them to remain as apex predators for a span of 165 million years. Her work now appears at Nature Scientific Reports.
The crack-like features appear at the bottom of each serration, and are only visible when the tooth is cut open. When Brink inspected them closely, she found they were present in theropods during the entire course of their lives, and not just after years of chomping on bone and flesh. This suggested that they had an actual purpose.
“The strange structure is actually a special arrangement of tooth tissues that increases the size of the serration, strengthening it and preventing it from wearing away quickly,” explained Brink in a Washington Post article “This means that teeth could last longer in the jaw, preventing gaps from occurring in the tooth row while a new tooth is developing, allowing for a more efficient bite when piercing through the flesh of its meal.”
More at the Washington Post. Read the entire study at Nature: “Developmental and evolutionary novelty in the serrated teeth of theropod dinosaurs”.
Contact the author at email@example.com and @dvorsky. Top image of Gorgosaurus by Danielle Dufault.