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Online Only: T-Rex had a good nose for meat

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The Tyrannosaurus Rex, previously renowned for its chomping prowess and large teeth, had a special gift for finding its prey. In fact, it had one of the canniest noses of any meat-eating dinosaur, comparable to the vicious velociraptor.

Scientists at the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrell Museum researched the noses of meat-eating dinosaurs, or theropods, in the first evaluation of their sense of smell. University of Calgary Paleontology assistant professor Dr. Darla Zelenitsky and museum curator François Therrien headed a study that looked at the impressions the olfactory bulbs, which are the part of the brain associated with smell, left on the fossils of skulls.

"The olfactory bulb was about the size of a strawberry and the brain about the size of an orange," said Zelenitsky.

The findings also shed light on the habits of this prehistoric carnivore.

"Large olfactory bulbs are found in living birds and mammals that rely heavily on smell to find meat, in animals that are active at night and in those animals that patrol large areas," she explained. "Although the king of carnivorous dinosaurs wouldn't have passed on scavenging a free dead meal, it may have used its sense of smell to strike at night or to navigate through large territories to find its next victim."

These discoveries have wide reaching implications, particularly for the study of bird evolution. Therrien and Zelenitsky found that one of the extinct ancestors of the modern bird Archaeopteryx, a descendant of small meat-eating dinosaurs, also had very large olfactory lobes. Birds today have excellent eyesight, but a very poorly developed sense of smell. Somewhere in the evolutionary period between then and now the sense of smell was lost and sight became pre-eminent in birds' hunting and scavenging said Zelenitsky claimed.

These new findings broaden the scope of dinosaur research, offering new insight into their hunting habits and range. They also may help answer into the persistent question of how dinosaurs lived and died.

The T-Rex has long been held as one of the most dangerous creatures to ever walk the earth. Zelenitsky acknowledged that a discerning nose would only make the creature more fearsome.

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In the debate over whether T. Rex was a hunter or scavenger, I have wondered if it wasn't a bit of both -- attacking larger prey that it couldn't kill outright without risking fatal injury to itself, delivering a bite that may have led to eventual death either from blood loss or infection similar to a Komodo dragon. Then it would track down the animal by smell when it died. Possible?