Monday, July 1, 2013

Literature review I: Larson, 2013

The single most contentious dinosaur specimen in recent history: the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex skull (CMNH 7541). Skull length is 752 millimeters. This is a digitally colorized version of the original carbon dust plate that was published in Carr (1999).

This entry is a challenge for me to pen, because I have two manuscripts in progress that have direct bearing on the ontogeny of Tyrannosaurus rex. I really do not want to deal with Larson's article in brevity, but my hands are tied because I will not put unpublished data here.

The bottom line is that Larson’s article “The case for Nanotyrannus” is a litany of straw man arguments and false analogies, misinterpretations of osteology, misunderstandings of variation and ontogeny, all rooted in a limited data set and a verificationist approach. None of it convinces me that the hypothesis I published in 1999 is incorrect: the weight of evidence shows that the Cleveland skull is referable to Tyrannosaurus rex, based on a comparison with the growth series of a well-known tyrannosaurid (namely, Albertosaurus libratus).

The Cleveland skull shows the juvenile features that are seen in all tyrannosaurid taxa, not just A. libratus, but also A. sarcophagus, Daspletosaurus torosus, and T. bataar (Carr, 1999; Currie, 2003). It also shows features that are shared with adult T. rex (yes, and adults lower in the tyrannosaurine phylogenetic hierarchy); ergo, the simplest hypothesis is that the skull is (1) a juvenile tyrannosaurid that is (2) referable to T. rex. From what I’ve read, Larson (2013) has set this line of reasoning aside in favor of something complicated.

On a lighter note, if that Late Cretaceous oviraptorid embryo (Larson, 2013: 44) – evidently in an egg – had the loving attention of so much ink, then we would have learned a lot more from that specimen about the rules of theropod ontogeny and evolution, instead of this taxonomic wallow!

References cited
Carr, T. D.  1999.  Craniofacial ontogeny in Tyrannosauridae (Dinosauria, Theropoda). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19:497-520.
Currie, P.J. 2003. Cranial anatomy of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous
Alberta, Canada. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 48: 191226.
Larson, P. L. 2013.  The case for Nanotyrannus in J. M. Parrish, R. A. Molnar, P. J. Currie., and E. B. Koppelhus (eds.) Tyrannosaurid Paleobiology, University of Indiana Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, pp. 15-53.


  1. Excellent - can't wait for the more detailed review!

  2. It's too bad you can't go into more detail, but regardless, I'm glad to see your opinion. By the way, are you ever going to give your thoughts on Raptorex?

    1. Ian - that's an excellent idea! I'll post on Raptorex after I've complete Osteology III, which is in progress.

  3. "I will not put unpublished data here"

    Aww, that's what makes SV-POW and Theropoda so good. I look forward to reading the two papers though.

  4. I agree with you. Since the defenders of "Nanotyrannus" have never made a solid case for a dinosaur, so I'm strongly agreeing you that this was just a juvenile T.rex.
    But I'd like to ask your opinion about a tyrannosaurid skeleton in dueling dinosaurs- -
    What do you think of it, just a large juvenile T.rex?
    And do you still think that tyrannosaurid dinosaurs decrease their tooth counts as they grow? the theory that you used in Nano=rex paper :)

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