KU paleontologist part of team that proves T. rex was a dinosaur of prey

It seems the kids were right when, with plastic dinosaur toys in hand, they made a play roar as Tyrannosaurus rex attacked and devoured the three-horned triceratops.

“T. rex is the monster of our dreams,” says University of Kansas paleontologist David Burnham.

Burnham, preparator of vertebrate paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas, is part of a team that has unearthed the first physical proof that T. rex was definitely a flesh-eating hunter and killer.

You’re probably saying, well, of course he was.

But scientists haven’t always been so sure. In fact, ever since the fossilized giant carnivore was discovered in the early 1900s, scientists have debated about whether T. rex was actually a predator or a scavenger.

Burnham and his team found proof in the Hell Creek formation of South Dakota — the crown of a T. rex tooth lodged in the fossilized spine of a plant-eating hadrosaur that seems to have survived the attack.

Lots of chewed-up dinosaur skeletons have been discovered over the years, and scientists were sure something had been gnawing on them. But they weren’t sure whether the feaster had killed the meal or it was already dead.

Burnham said that until now, there hadn’t been evidence for a “hunt and kill.”

Describing their find in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences are Burnham and his KU co-authors Bruce Rothschild and the late Larry Martin, along with former KU student Robert DePalma II of the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History and Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research.