Our fascination with Tyrannosaurus rex, the aptly named king of the dinosaurs, has been fed by Jurassic Park and other films, but the reality is equally entrancing.
The story of the tyrannosaurs, writes Hone (Ecology/Queen Mary Univ. of London), “covers more than 100 million years of paleontological history, and over a century of scientific research.” The author, an internationally recognized authority on dinosaurs whose own research has focused on tyrannosaurs, describes them as “icons of evolution and of the dinosaurs as a whole,” and he believes that the focus of research on them has been encouraged by “its overexposure in the public eye (and in some scientific circles as well).” Hone chronicles the series of discoveries over the past 100 years since a dinosaur jaw and teeth were found in Britain. These bones have allowed scientists, including the author, to piece together the dinosaurs' history and aspects of their behavior. While correctly surmising that tyrannosaurs and other dinosaurs were carnivores, scientists erroneously assumed that they were some kind of previously unknown “giant land reptile.” Subsequent fossil discoveries in polar regions ruled out this possibility since coldblooded reptiles could not survive such extreme cold weather. For 100 million years, these “largest terrestrial carnivores of all time, with giant heads and huge teeth,” dominated the Earth. Teeth and other fossil evidence point to the likelihood that they were carnivorous hunters rather than scavengers, as does the placement of their eye sockets, which indicates binocular vision. The fossil record reveals “a massive change in the make-up of life on earth,” likely due to a disastrous climate change that occurred some 66 million years ago—a series of events that precipitated a relatively short (in geological terms) extinction event “lasting perhaps just a few tens of thousands of years.”
Hone successfully integrates two equally fascinating stories: how our knowledge of these fabulous creatures was pieced together over time and what we can infer about them.