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Maybe you've seen the film "Jurassic Park," and you remember that scene where the Tyrannosaurus rex escapes its pen and attacks guests at the theme park. You might remember those imposing teeth. Well, in real life, the T. rex had the biggest teeth of any dinosaur. They were the size of bananas. And as NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, scientists now think they know just how hard those teeth could bite.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: If you want to know the biting power of a T. rex Gregory Erickson says you should start by looking at crocodiles.
GREGORY ERICKSON: Crocodiles are close relatives of dinosaurs, so that's, you know - it's probably our best model for looking at dinosaurs.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He's a biologist at Florida State University who has spent years testing the bite forces of different crocodiles species. For him, lassoing a 17-foot croc and getting it to bite on a glorified bathroom scale is all in a day's work. He and his colleague Paul Gignac recently took what they knew about crocodile jaw muscles and created computer models to estimate the chomping potential of T. rex
PAUL GIGNAC: What we came up with were bite forces of around 8,000 pounds. So that's like setting basically three small cars on top of the jaws of a T. rex. That's basically what was pushing down.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's more than twice the bite force of the biggest living crocodiles and way stronger than you or me. The bite force of humans is a paltry 200 pounds. Erickson says, unlike modern reptiles, T. rex could chew up enormous bones, thanks to the right combination of biting power plus blunt teeth that were serrated like steak knives.
ERICKSON: It basically could slice through just about anything in its realm.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And it did, devouring everything from duck-billed dinos to triceratops. Francois Therrien works at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada. He says, over the years, there have been lots of attempts to estimate the bite force of T. rex, and different numbers have been thrown out there.
FRANCOIS THERRIEN: So lots of those earlier bite force estimates were more theoretical construct. They weren't really based or grounded in the modern world by comparison with some living animals for which we knew the bite force.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's why he likes this new analysis in the journal Scientific Reports and thinks it probably gets closer to reality.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF DINOSAUR JR.'S "START CHOPPIN'")
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