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Tyrannosaurus rex probably could not run fast, scientists say

King of the Cretaceous, Tyrannosaurus rex stood on two powerful hind limbs and terrorized potential prey with its elephantine size and lethal jaws. The dinosaur was big and bad. But was it fast?

That's long been a topic of scientific debate, with some paleontologists arguing T. rex ran at a zippy top speed of 45 miles per hour and others suggesting a more moderate 25 miles per hour. Both estimates seemed fast to John Hutchinson of Stanford, who as a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley set out with help from postdoctoral researcher Mariano Garcia, now of Borg-Warner Automotive, to test them using principles of biomechanics.

The researchers created a computer model to calculate how much leg muscle a land animal would need to support running fast. In the Feb. 28 issue of the journal Nature, they report that T. rex probably could not run quickly. In fact, hindered by its size, it may not have been able to run at all. Though not enough is known to give an exact speed limit for T. rex, a range of 10 to 25 miles per hour is possible, according to the authors.

"When you get down to the science of how animals move, relatively speaking, big things really don't move fast," says Hutchinson, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow. At Stanford since September, he studies the evolution of anatomy and locomotion. When small animals move quickly - rabbits jump, monkeys climb, birds fly, cheetahs sprint - they endure high physical forces for their body weights. Such forces are biomechanically impossible for large animals. Aquatic animals, such as whales, are less limited than land animals, such as elephants, because water buoys them.

Skeletal muscle is built similarly in all vertebrate animals. The force that it can exert depends on its cross-sectional area - that is, two factors: muscle length and muscle width. But an animal's weight, or body mass, depends on three factors: length, width and height. The math b
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Contact: Dawn Levy
dawnlevy@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
27-Feb-2002


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