Neck posture, yet again: T. rex‘s neck is pathetic
June 3, 2009
Here at SV-POW! Towers, we often like to play Spot The T. rex — a simple drinking game that can be played whenever you have supply of palaeontology-related news reports. Each player in turn takes a report off the stack, and if T. rex is mentioned anywhere in the report, the player drinks. We lay in a lot of beer when we play this game, because as it turns out, T. rex is nearly always mentioned (and nearly always spelled “T-Rex”, no italics, no full stop, gratuitous hyphen, capitalised trivial name). For example, suppose someone publishes an innocent paper arguing that a particular Eocene clam was an obligate scavenger: then the story in the press will be “… just as has been argued for the terrifying T-Rex, which had teeth like steak knives”. Or if someone names a new Miocene rodent, it will be introduced as “… which lived 50 million years after the terrifying T-Rex, which had teeth like steak knives”. (Drink twice if the steak knives are mentioned. Three times if they are described as “banana-sized”.)
So we didn’t feel our neck-posture paper was real until it had somehow been tied in with T-Rex. Happily, the Great North Museum came to the rescue: by coincidence, they unveiled their T. rex cast the weekend before the paper came out, and the Sunday Sun wanted our opinion on the way the neck had been mounted. Here’s their mount (not quite ready to exhibit):
Of course, everything we said about the necks of sauropods in the paper also applies to every other extinct land vertebrate — we only concentrated on sauropods because (A) they are the group whose neck posture has been claimed to depart from the tetrapod norm, and (B) they are cool. In particular, non-avian theropods such as T. rex are in the same extant phylogenetic bracket as sauropods are (i.e. birds plus crocs), so we’d expect strong extension at the base of the neck and strong flexion at the head joint in habitual pose.
So I replied that “the Newcastle mount has the neck and torso in more of a straight line [than a Vidal-compliant posture], which would probably not have been the habitual pose. It looks to me as though this animal is crouching down to take a drink”, and I’m pleased that the resulting news story included a rather gracious response from the GNM curator.
I don’t know whether the notoriously litigious Disney corporation would be so mellow, though, regarding their truly horrible mount of a cast of “Sue”:
I’m really not sure what the people who mounted this were getting at: unlike the Great North Museum mount, the legs are erect, so it’s not going into or coming out of a crouch; and it’s not going into a drinking posture, because the head is pointing straight forward. But for some reason, it’s below shoulder height.
Here’s how it should be done:
It’s good to see that the biggest natural history musuem in the world is ahead of the curve, and has its T. rex mount in a pose consistent with how other land vertebrates habitually hold their necks.
I leave you with the news the T. rex‘s neck is pathetic. Here is the skull and neck of that same AMNH mount, composited with a single cervical vertebra (C8) of Sauroposeidon. Please note that the Sauroposeidon cervical is way longer than the whole T. rex neck.
No references today!
[You don’t need to be told the reference for Taylor et al. (2009) again, do you?]