profile of Sue's head









RIGHT: Jaws agape and ready to chomp, Sue's fossilized head showed her intimate relationship to birds.
Photo by John Weinstein.
©The Field Museum.


Is this a living dinosaur?illustration of a pelican chick


Super Sue Meets Super Glue


    Of the birds, by the birds, and for the birds
close-up of Sue's head
Since Sue was the most complete T. rex ever found, and since the Field Museum paid more than $8-million for her, it stands to reason that she'd thrash some theories and substantiate others. One early casualty -- based on holes in her jaw -- was that she'd been bitten by another dinosaur. The holes, however, don't match the tooth pattern of anything stupid enough to nibble a full-grown T. rex.

Perhaps they were caused by infection, dinos being kinda weak in the flossing department... Did Sue neglect dental hygiene due to her acute sense of smell? Perhaps. A computerized tomography (CT) scan of her giant skull revealed that her brain had what chief fossil preparer Bill Simpson calls "gigantic" olfactory lobes. "Her sense of smell was extremely finely developed."

Here's our question: With such a mighty schnozz, would Sue have tolerated those ghastly dental disinfectants?

Simpson figures that those olfactory bulbs give the lie to the character in Jurassic Park, who suggested that standing still would have prevented a T. rex from spotting human prey. "It's a total fallacy. He would have smelled you in a second."

Further, Sue's "wishbone" -- the first found from a T. rex -- resembles a bird's wishbone. That buttresses the notion that birds descended from coelurosaurs, the group of meat-eating dinosaurs that includes T. rex. Likewise, Sue's trigeminal nerve openings were far apart, a characteristic of birds and coelurosaurs, but not other carnivorous dinos.

Warning: terrible teeth ahead!Nuttin' but a bird brain After years of debate, the idea that birds descended from dinosaurs is becoming the conventional wisdom, says Simpson. "I'd say 95 percent of paleontologists accept it. There's a small group holding out, but they've been clobbered by the evidence."

If birds are living dinos, were some dinos also warm blooded? Simpson says quite likely, judging by impressions made by dino skin that apparently carried feathers. Feathers, he says, indicate that the animals were trying to retain warmth (remember: ducks have feathers, but not clams or fish).

What remains to be seen, Simpson adds, is whether all dinos were warm-blooded: "How far down the dinosaur tree it went, we don't know." Here's a great discussion of Sue's scientific significance.

Overall, the advantage of these new dinosaur preparation and mounting techniques is their ability to reduce damage to specimens while increasing public appreciation for these fantastic critters.

Some of us fossilized Why Filers are ancient enough to remember the old portrayal of dinosaurs as faint-witted, sluggish lizards that happened to get too big for their britches. False.

Dinosaurs -- at least the predatory ones like Sue -- are now seen as fast and somewhat intelligent. They may even have had a family life, judging by fossils that show dino nests. Teasing out the unexpected behavioral complexity of dinosaurs will depend on ever-more subtle prep and mounting techniques. The goal of this work, says Simpson, is simple. "The less damage you do, the more information there is. You'd like not to touch the fossil at all. If you can collect, prepare and study without damage, that's ideal."

Read our bone-riddled bibliography.


The Why Files     There are 1 2 3 4 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search