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PRESS RELEASE - New Skull of Juvenile Tarbosaurus (Asia's "T.Rex") from Gobi Desert Indicates Different Feeding Strategy than Adults

May 10, 2011

New Skull of Juvenile Tarbosaurus (Asia's "T.Rex") from Gobi Desert Indicates Different Feeding Strategy than Adults

DEERFIELD, IL (May 3, 2011) - There is little, if any, argument as to which dinosaur is the favorite among children in the U.S. – western North America’s own Tyrannosaurus rex wins hands down. But children in Asia have their own home-grown favorite in T. rex’s very close cousin, Tarbosaurus bataar. In the next issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Takanobu Tsuihiji and several other Japanese, Mongolian and U.S. paleontologists describe an exquisitely preserved skull of a juvenile T. bataar determined to be only 2 to 3 years old at the time of its death, about 70 million years ago, in what is now the western Gobi Desert of Mongolia. Although less than a foot long, this skull is anything but short on the information it is revealing, particularly with respect to the changes that took place as these top predators grew from juveniles to adults.

Found in 2006 during the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences–Mongolian Paleontological Center Joint Expedition, the skull and nearly entire skeleton were collected at the Bugin Tsav locality, where larger, adult specimens of the same species have also been recovered.

As the authors of the paper report, finding such a complete juvenile skull of Tarbosaurus is highly important for several reasons. Chief among these is the information it provides on the skeletal changes that occurred as juveniles grew into adults. Using X-Ray CT scanning, they found that this skull lacks almost all the adaptations for powerful biting and twisting seen in adult Tarbosaurus.

“We knew that adult Tarbosaurus were a lot like T. rex,” said Tsuihiji, a post-doctoral researcher at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo and lead author of the study. “Adults show features throughout the skull associated with a powerful bite … large muscle attachments, bony buttresses, specialized teeth. The juvenile is so young that it doesn’t really have any of these features yet, and so it must have been feeding quite differently from its parents.” Tarbosaurus, therefore, must have changed dietary niches as it got older, “hunting only smaller prey that it could subdue without damage to its skull as a juvenile, but taking larger, more dangerous prey as its skull became progressively stronger with age.” According to Mahito Watabe of the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences in Okayama, who led the 2006 expedition that discovered the new skull, these smaller prey may have included the bony-headed dinosaur Prenocephale, which is found in nearby rocks of the same age.

An additional important benefit to studying this new, very young individual of T. bataar will be to help clarify whether previously recovered juvenile and adult specimens of tyrannosaurs represent the same or different species. It has long been known that juvenile tyrannosaurids have features that make them appear more primitive than adults of the same species. “The beauty of our new young skull,” says study co-author Lawrence Witmer, the Chang Professor of Paleontology at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, “is that we absolutely know for many good reasons that our specimen is Tarbosaurus. We can use this known growth series to get a better sense of whether some of the more controversial juvenile finds grew up to be Tarbosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, or some other species.” This, in turn, will result in a greater overall understanding of the evolutionary history of the group.


About the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Founded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has more than 2,400 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators and others interested in vertebrate paleontology. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (JVP) is the leading journal of professional vertebrate paleontology and the flagship publication of the Society. It was founded in 1980 by Dr. Jiri Zidek and publishes contributions on all aspects of vertebrate paleontology.

For complimentary access to the full article beginning May 11, visit:        
The article appears in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31(3), published by Taylor and Francis.

Citation: Tsuihiji, T., Watabe, M., Tsogtbaatar, K., Tsubamoto, T., Barsbold, R., Suzuki, S., Lee, A. H., Ridgely, R. C., Kawahara, Y., and Witmer, L. M. Cranial osteology of a juvenile specimen of Tarbosaurus bataar (Theropoda, Tyrannosauridae) from the Nemegt Formation (Upper Cretaceous) of Bugin Tsav, Mongolia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31(3); pages 497 - 517.

Journal website: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology:


Takanobu Tsuihiji, PhD
Department of Geology and Paleontology
National Museum of Nature and Science
Tokyo, Japan
Phone: +81-3-3364-2311 Ext. 7238

Lawrence Witmer, PhD
Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Athens, Ohio USA
Phone: +1-740-591-7712

Mahito Watabe, PhD
Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences
Okayama, Japan
Phone: +81-86-224-4311


Dr. Tom Holtz, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geology, University of Maryland:

Dr. Phil Currie, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Paleobiology, University of Alberta:

Steve Brusatte, PhD Candidate, Columbia University:


Dr. Paul M. Barrett
Researcher, Dinosaurs and Fossil Reptiles
Department of Palaeontology
The Natural History Museum, London
London, United Kingdom

Dr. Julia Clarke
Department of Geological Sciences
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX USA

An animation accompanying this story has been uploaded to YouTube:
Caption: A newly discovered specimen of the Mongolian tyrannosaur Tarbosaurus comes from a juvenile only 2-3 years old when it died, providing insight into the growth and changing lifestyles of tyrannosaurs. The animation accompanies an article published in May 2011 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Tsuihiji and others: Movie by Ridgely & Witmer, Courtesy of WitmerLab at Ohio University
The same animation is available as a Full HD 1920x1080 QuickTime movie. Contact L. Witmer for access:

IMAGES (with links to higher resolution versions available online)

Image 1: The youngest and most complete skeleton including a skull of a tyrannosaur ever found. This 2-year-old individual of Tarbosaurus discovered in Cretaceous rocks in Mongolia weighed only 70 pounds but would have grown up to be a 6-ton mega-predator. Courtesy of the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences and WitmerLab at Ohio University.

Image 2: Skull of a 2-year-old juvenile Tarbosaurus, a Cretaceous tyrannosaur from Mongolia. The skull is represented by a photograph (lower right), a drawing (center), and a computer rendering with rock removed based on CT scanning (top left). Courtesy of the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences and WitmerLab at Ohio University.

Image 3: Silhouettes of an adult Tarbosaurus and the newly discovered juvenile, along with a human for scale. Courtesy of the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences.

Image 4: In 2006, workers from the Hayashibara Museum of Science and Mongolian Paleontological Center (including study coauthors, Yasuhiro Kawahara, left, and Takehisa Tsubamoto, right) excavated the skeleton of the juvenile Tarbosaurus from 70-million-year-old rocks in Mongolia. Courtesy of the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences.