Tyrannosaur pack-hunting theory aided by new footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

One Tyrannosaurus Rex hunting down its prey is terrifying enough. (Via Archbob / CC0 1.0)

But what if instead of just one T-Rex in Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," Ian Malcolm was being chased by a gang of tyrannosaurs? (Via Universal Pictures / "Jurassic Park")

A new study gives more backing to the controversial theory that the prehistoric apex predator was less lone wolf and more wolf pack in terms of hunting its prey - as seen in this BBC animation.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, claim the scientists discovered the "world's first trackways" imprinted by three different tyrannosaurs about 70 million year ago - seen here dug into a rocky surface in the outskirts of British Columbia, Canada. So what tipped the researchers off that the terrifying predators hunted together? Several tridactyl footprints on three separate trackways in a close 9-meter proximity which all seem to be pointed in the same direction.

Richard McCrea of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre said, "This is about the strongest evidence you can get that these were gregarious animals. The only stronger evidence I can think of is going back in a time machine to watch them."

The idea of tyrannosaur pack hunting is also not new.

University of Alberta paleontologist and study co-author Dr. Philip Currie has been researching the concept for a over decade. (Via YouTube / University of Alberta)

He brought the gang-hunting theory to the public in the 2011 Discovery Channel documentary series called "Dino Gangs," with one episode unearthing a massive tyrannosaur grave.

Narrator: "68 huge tyrannosaur skeletons discovered in one location. What happened? ... One scientist has a controversial theory."
Dr. Philip Currie: "They hunted in deadly, bloodthirsty packs."

As appealing as it sounded at the time, National Geographic science writer Brian Switek said those mass graves weren't enough to convince him tyrannosaurs were "communal carnivores." But the new footprints give the theory more credibility.

Saying while "[The] bonebed is ambiguous evidence for social behavior, a trackway showing that tyrannosaurs walked together would be a much clearer sign of social tyrants."

And that at least seems to make sense. Tyrannosaur fossils are popping up a lot these days but the researchers and Switek both point out finding actual footprints is quite rare.

Switek reported on one other footprint finding in Australia in 2010 - which was believed to a "large theropod dinosaur" - but he said it's unlikely to be a tyrannosaur track. (Via Smithsonian Magazine)

Now, the researchers for the recent study also dug up footprints from other prehistoric dinosaurs, but - unlike the tyrannosaur - those footprints were heading in all sorts of different directions. Further evidence, they said, to suggest the tyrannosaur indeed hunted in packs.