A heart-pounding scene of the hit film "Jurassic Park" depicts a fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing scientists in a Jeep and nearly catching them. But in reality, the infamous T. rex would have broken its legs trying to move anywhere near that fast, new research suggests.
"The muscles need to be able to generate sufficient power to allow high-speed locomotion, but at the same time the skeleton has to be able to cope with the loads generated by the high speed," paleontologist William Sellers tells Matthew Stock at Reuters.
Sellers and his collaborators used advanced computer simulations to model how the seven tons of weight of an adult T. rex would be distributed as it moved, reports Tom Chivers for Buzzfeed News. While its skeleton was capable of running motions, the scientists found that beast's slender legs likely would've shattered under stress of its entire body weight landing on one leg.
Instead, it appears that the most an adult T. rex would have been capable of would have been a walking pace—but its long legs would have made it a pretty fast walk by human standards. At top speed, the dinosaur would be able to move at around 12 miles per hour, reports George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. This is within the range of average sprinting speeds for most people, but less than the half the top speed ever clocked by a person. They published their results in the journal PeerJ.
"It certainly would not have been able to chase down faster-moving prey animals," Sellers tells Stock, raising the possibility that the previously discredited hypothesis of the T. rex being more of a scavenger could hold some water.
However, even at relatively slow speeds, there would've still been plenty of prey available to the T. rex, paleontologist Thomas Carr tells Dvorsky.
“It doesn’t matter if adult T. rex couldn’t run: all it had to do was move more quickly than its prey,” Carr tells Dvorsky. “The available herbivorous dinosaurs in its environment—Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, Ankylosaurus—were all much slower than an adult T. rex— it was just slaughter in the slow lane.”
The T. rex could have also relied on the element of surprise in its heavily forested habitats by being able to ambush and quickly subdue prey, according to Buzzfeed News.
Like kids who can run laps around their parents, smaller, lighter juvenile T. rex would have likely been able to move much faster, reports Buzzfeed News, possibly letting them pursue more agile prey while leaving the slower, larger animals to their older relatives.
So if you expect to encounter any T. rex on your island explorations, you might want to bring along a pair of running shoes. You might just be able to outrun it.