Are retro '90s Tyrannosaurs making a comeback?

4 min read

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Paleo-King's avatar
Well, I have to admit it.
It was tempting to draw large tyrannosaurs with a heavy coat of feathers. It proved VERY tempting. But I stuck to my guns and held out on it. Why? I wasn't convinced the evidence would favor it.

I had already seen pictures of skin impressions attributed to the neck and chest of T. rex, and they were scaly. But this wasn't published and therefore people were casting doubt on it (I wonder if they did the same when Yutyrannus photos showed feathers, before it was formally published and described?). Now some may ask what I have against feathered tyrannosaurids, since that is the new orthodoxy in much of paleo-art (just as lizard-like restorations were orthodoxy in the time of Knight and Burian). The answer is actually: nothing. But when talking about giant tyrannosaurids there was no actual evidence of feathered skin. Not only that, but being roughly 1.5 times the length of the still taxonomically controversial Yutyrannus, the largest T. rexes at 12 meters were over twice the mass, and in addition they were living in a time with warmer global temperatures and increased SO2 and volcanic activity.

I maintained that if T. rex had any feathers as an adult, they would probably be in very limited areas, for display. Something that big would not need them for insulation, and as a warm-blooded predator in the Maastrichtian epoch with rising global temperatures, it would likely overheat with a heavy coat of feathers.

Now we have a paper just out confirming that big tyrannosaurids were probably scaly over the majority if not all of their body surface - and that feathers were lost relatively early in the evolution of true Tyrannosauridae.
And this isn't some fringe paper in a fake journal by creationists or BANDits. It's Royal Society, and Phil Currie, Bob Bakker, Darren Tanke and Pete Larson are all among the co-authors. You don't get more solid in credentials than that. I don't even think Jack Horner would take issue with their scaly conclusion, given his historically conservative approach to dinosaur biomechanics and metabolism.

Now I can imagine some people having nightmares over their entire post-dotcom idea of a poofy T. rex being overturned. So what does this really mean for the big picture of tyrannosaurs?

Does it suddenly mean they were cold-blooded overgrown alligators? NO. Warm-bloodedness is not dependent on feathers or fur, especially not at those sizes.
Does it mean that they were unrelated to birds and we need to rip up the theropod family tree? NO. The paper states that the tyrannosaur lineage lost their feathers, not that they never had them.
Does it mean that all the old pre-Bakker images of sluggish tail-dragging T. rexes were correct? NO and no. These certainly weren't the only unfeathered tyrannosaurs ever drawn or painted, and definitely not the most anatomically informed (Burian was even famous for not looking at fossils or estimating proportions) - and just because the paper found that Tyrannosaurus, Albertosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Daspletosaurus and Tarbosaurus were scaly over at least the majority of their body, it still doesn't mean that we have to burn The Dinosaur Heresies or throw four decades of warm-blooded paleo-ecology and histology evidence (and ever-improving paleo-art) out the window. It doesn't even mean that the ugly DK or Horizon/JP 'rexes of later years are suddenly more current. Those had lots of anatomical gaffes too.

But I'll tell you what it does mean... It means there's a good chance that the science-based Bakkerian and post-Bakkerian scalies are more accurate than a lot of feather-happy tyrannosaur images today.
What it does mean is that sleek, athletic, warm-blooded, fast-running and nonetheless scaly tyrannosaurs of the 80s and 90s - the "classic" scaly jumpsuit tyrannosaurs in all your favorite Greg Paul and Brian Franczak paintings from the heyday of the Dinosaur Renaissance - are probably the closest thing to a lifelike portrayal (aside from the hand posture). And you know what? That's not a bad thing at all.

Image result for greg paul t. rex  Image result for brian franczak t. rex 
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timelordeternal's avatar
I really hope that Tyrannosaurus rex gets it's original name Manospondylus gigas back and that the name Tyrannosaurus rex will be forgotten about forever 
Paleo-King's avatar
Why? It's nowhere near the worse name given to a dinosaur.

Manospondylus is a very strange name anyway, it doesn't even mean what it sounds like in Latin. Almost like someone dug up the most obscure homophones in Latin they could find.
timelordeternal's avatar
Tyrannosaurus rex is way too much of a awesomebro sounding name and therefore it needs to be replaced by the less cool sounding name Manospondylus gigas 
Paleo-King's avatar
Dude, Tyrannosaurus rex was named over a hundred years ago, there were no awesomebros then.

Awesomebros just latched on to names like T. rex because they are easy to pronounce and they mean something big and scary, but good luck getting an awesomebro to actually explain what the name means!

"Less cool" is purely subjective, though I can tell you're being sarcastic. Like Peter Lynch when he makes stock recommendations. Only less socially aware.
12monkehs's avatar
I think he's randomanchiornis.
Dinopithecus's avatar
While we're on it, why don't we rename the vampire squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis ("vampire squid from Hell")? Because God forbid that an organism has a cool scientific name.
timelordeternal's avatar
the vampire squid is not a giant multi ton apex predator though
Dinopithecus's avatar
What's your point? In the end these are all just names; who cares if you give whatever lifeform a fearsome-sounding scientific name? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But to tap a little into my inner fanboy: if anything, I'd say a multi ton apex predator is more deserving of having a fearsome-sounding scientific name than some 30 centimeter squid that feeds on detritus, not less.
timelordeternal's avatar
I find it pretty insulting that a multi ton apex predator gets to have a fearsome sounding name that reeks of heavy metal because that means that it will always hog the spotlight, I cannot stand how Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous dinosaur ever
Dinopithecus's avatar
That's "insulting" to you? Wow.

Changing a popular animal's scientific name that has been in use for over a century is not one of the better or convenient ways to bring attention to other extinct fauna.
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Paleo-King's avatar
Not really. They are both too alligator-like. T. rex's skin impressions show VERY small and fine scales. Not huge lumpy croc scales or heavy wrinkles. The feather texture may be plausible, but the transition is too extreme on the first one.

As I mentioned earlier, there are very few restorations, either paintings or sculptures, that get it right. The point of this post is not to promote JP-style rexes. That's in many ways the OPPOSITE of what I want to promote. (In many ways even most feathered reconstructions are nothing more than a JP rex with feathers - the Saurian versions look that way too. Really overbulked, lumpy croc scales, more of a plodder than a runner, but with lots of feathers).

My point is that the evidence now points to small and smooth scales, and does not show any feathers. So even if there were feathers in some places, the overall body was mostly covered in small, fine scales, which would have had few if any permanent wrinkles. Basically the evidence now favors Greg Paul or Brian Franczak-style rexes, texture-wise. Regardless of whether they had a few feathers or not.
Majestic-Colossus's avatar
"Really overbulked, lumpy croc scales, more of a plodder than a runner, but with lots of feathers)."

Is that for Saurian or JP? Saurian's T.rex has a decent amount of bulk, most skeletals have a very similar amount of soft tissue, so I think that's not a problem. The biggest problem with saurian's T.rex is the thick coat of feathers which looks very unrealistic. I'm not sure about those lips too.
Paleo-King's avatar
Saurian's rex is overbulked in my view. Looks like it's stomping rather than a fast runner. Especialyl considering it's based on Stan, which is one of the lightest and most gracile large rexes we know of. Sue may have had that sort of stocky profile, but not Stan.

Saurian got more things wrong than just the heavy feathers. It's ironic that without the feathers, it would still be little better than a JP rex. Which means they are still stuck in the false dichotomy bubble of "either heavily feathered T. rex is right, or otherwise JP rex must be right".

As if NO other interpretations of this animal ever existed :X  Saurian needs to take a cue, at this rate it's shocking how 20+ years later, with all the new evidence and tech, Greg Paul and Brian Franczak are still ahead of their time. Seriously those paintings should be hanging in the National Gallery, they are too predictive and groundbreaking to be mere paleoart.
12monkehs's avatar
>Saurian's rex is overbulked in my view. Looks like it's stomping rather than a fast runner. 

>the Saurian versions look that way too. Really overbulked, lumpy croc scales, more of a plodder than a runner, but with lots of feathers.

I think the problem a part of the problem comes from the fact that the legs from the one in the concept art had been shortened for some reason, garnering also from the fact that the whole animal is a bit bulky. Interestingly though, they actually updated the leg region at some point and slimmed the entire thing down. 

concept art:…

In game model…

You can actually see a contrast between these two.

It also doesn’t really “plod” around in the game as you say it does:…

*Fast forward to 0:25 for the second video.*
12monkehs's avatar
>Looks like it's stomping rather than a fast runner.


sure, it might have been faster than this, but you’ll get the idea.
Paleo-King's avatar
That's a Hutchinson-type model. Very inaccurate. It doens't even move like a real theropod.

Typical Washington post dishonest headlines. This paper has become a shoe-stuffing rag.
12monkehs's avatar
R>Saurian's rex is overbulked in my view. Looks like it's stomping rather than a fast runner. Especialyl considering it's based on Stan, which is one of the lightest and most gracile large rexes we know of. Sue may have had that sort of stocky profile, but not Stan.

14ff9f3b-2a9a-4b23-8a05-54ad29773400 by 12monkehs  

6579770d-7a67-419e-ae5c-f400e9d2c585 by 12monkehs  

“I'm not fat. It's all this fur. It makes me look... poofy.” – Manny

Also I think you’re kind of over glorifying the 
Greg Paul and Brian Franczak versions a bit.
Paleo-King's avatar
LOL not glorifying. Just agreeing with.

Although you have to admit they are pretty iconic for being as accurate as they are :D
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Amphurious's avatar
As iffy as the JP version was, I think the T. rex from Walking With Dinosaurs has got to be one of the ugliest modern(ish; I can't believe it's been almost 20 years!) incarnations I've seen. What's up with that weird bulbous head and that scrawny chicken neck? At the end of the day the JP franchise are monster movies, but WWD was supposed to be a documentary.
Paleo-King's avatar
WWD was pretty bad, in fact you could argue it copied a lot from the JP rexes. Only worse quality in terms of animation. The T. rexes in WWD almost look like a cross between JP and "Carnosaur" (not sure how many people have heard of that movie, it was a low-budget monster flick that basically set the stage for JP).

Then you have the equally horrible T. rex from "Jurassic Fight Club" and the more detailed but equally inaccurate and ugly T. rex from "Clash of the Dinosaurs" with a stiff neck, stiffer legs, and sagging jowls. Why can't these so called education programs JUST STICK TO THE EVIDENCE and stop inventing wrong postures, structures and excess flesh and/or gristle that probably wasn't there! They also did other stupid things like showing just two Deinonychus effortlessly kill a subadult Sauroposeidon that's at least the size of a house, while deceptively quote-mining Matt Wedel saying "a pack of Deinonychus could easily kill BABIES of Sauroposeidon" (which, among other dishonest and career-damaging practices, he apparently considered suing them for).

Dinosaur Revolution so far is the best documentary in terms of animation, but even that show had some pretty odd T. rexes. For its time it's very retro, and not in a good way. Although the bodies look accurate, the heads are badly shrinkwrapped, skull faces literally. GSP's shrink-wrapping didn't even get close to that extreme. That said, most of the other dinosaurs in Revolution were excellent (aside from, you know, the "humanization" of the eye movements and expressions). You can tell whoever designed their Velociraptors borrows a lot of design aesthetics from Chris Masna, who is as I've said previously a top notch artist.
Amphurious's avatar
Apparently Swordlord3d right here on DA designed some of the dinosaurs in Dinosaur Revolution; the Velociraptor, Protoceratops, Eoraptor, Gigantoraptor and Troodon, at least.

Both DR and the new WWD movie were originally planned to have no narration/dialogue but the producers got cold feet and changed it during production. Incidentally, I've seen the "Cretaceous Cut" of WWD 3D that removes the dialogue and it's... well, I guess tolerable? Even without the voiceovers it's still very cartoonish and tropey, complete with the lead Pachyrhinosaurus making goo-goo eyes at his love interest (who is pink and has soft features because herp derp how else we tell she girl???) If they just wanted to make a cute dinosaur movie for kids then they should have taken the Land Before Time route and made them less realistic. There's no way I could have survived the version with dialogue.
Paleo-King's avatar
I have a hunch that ceratopsian mating rituals were a lot more savage than anything in these quaint Victorian-style cartoon tropes.

Don't ask me why, they just look like they're built for something rough.
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