The Tumultuous Life & Times of Sue the T-Rex

I stopped by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History last week to get a final look at Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex before the fossil is dismantled (see the previous story HERE) next month. Looking over the signage, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some interesting tidbits with photos to help illuminate the difficult life of a T-Rex. So here are some interesting facts about Sue…

*The fossil was named after the woman who discovered it, Sue Hendrickson. Though it’s often given female pronouns such as “her” and “she,” it’s true sex remains a mystery. Scientists, however, are hopeful more research will eventually uncover the animal’s true gender.

*Of the thirty T-Rex skeletons discovered, Sue was not only the most complete but also the eldest at 28 years old.

*Scientists still aren’t sure how bulky Sue was in life but suggest three likely possibilities…

*Sue’s arms are important because of all the T-Rex specimens discovered, there have only been two complete ones ever found. The animal’s tiny arms have long been a mystery as well as the punchline for humorous T-shirts and memes. Did they serve any purpose at all? In October of 2016, the museum removed the fossil’s right arm and sent it to the Argonne National Lab for study. If the arm had been used any regular activities, microscopic bone changes would reveal this. Their results? They served no physical purpose.

Sue T-Rex Arm left

*Another rare find was a small bone that bridges the animal’s clavicle called a furcula. This is currently only found in birds where it helps strengthens the thoracic skeleton for flight. This doesn’t suggest that Sue could fly, of course, but does further support the connection between dinosaurs and birds.

*As Sue’s body gets ready to move upstairs, parts of the fossil have long since been there. These include its gastralia (which will be reattached and was discussed in my last Sue post) as well as the head. The real skull was simply too heavy to be attached and was located for public viewing in a glass case above.

*Sue currently has the most complete T-Rex Tail (35 out of 40+ vertebrae). This is important because it gives scientists a much closer estimate as to the animal’s length. The discovery of Sue proved that past specimens were off by as much as 11 feet.

*If Sue is any indication of the life of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, then it was a rough one. The fossil reveals several notable injuries including broken ribs on both the right and left sides. Evidence of healing shows the animal it did survive them.

*Holes in Sue’s jaw once thought to be possible teeth marks, are now believed to be the result of an infection called Actinomycosis. This bacteria is known to infect the mouths of cattle and these holes have been seen in other T-Rex specimens. Some theorize Sue’s mouth as being so infectious it may have given her a venomous bite such as modern-day Komodo dragons.

*Sue also suffered and healed from a broken right upper arm and shoulder blade.

Sue T-Rex Arm 1

*Sue’s tail has bone spurs which could have been caused by injuries, cysts, or possibly arthritis.

Sue Tail Damage 1Sue Tail Damage 2 (1)

*There was NO adequate healing, however, for left fibula which showed extensive scar tissue and caused the bone to be double the size of its right.

 

*Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota (whose group discovered and excavated this fossil) believes Sue could not have survived all her injuries without  “complex social behavior, such as spousal care.” Was Sue a loner or a social animal? New discoveries will hopefully reveal the answer. 

*Despite all her ailments, Sue’s cause of death remains inconclusive.

~Dave Fuentes

Sue Tyrannosaurus Rex 2

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