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T. rex, most dinosaurs couldn't stick out their tongues

Jurassic World might want a re-do.


The designers behind the Jurassic World Legacy Collection Extreme Chompin' Tyrannosaurus Rex action figure might need to go back to the drawing board. The tongue-waggling toy is a little deficient in the accuracy department since a new study on dinosaur tongues came out on Wednesday.

A research team from University of Texas at Austin and the Chinese Academy of Sciences compared the tongue-supporting hyoid bones of modern birds and crocodiles with fossil specimens from dinosaurs, including a T. rex.   

These fossils from Northeast China preserved the hyoid bones. 

Li et al. 2018

The study concludes most dinosaur tongues were anchored down to the floor of the mouth, similar to those of current-day alligators. 

This puts a damper on some depictions of dinosaurs showing them with mouths agape and tongues extended as they roar.

"They've been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time," said University of Texas paleontologist Julia Clarke. "In most extinct dinosaurs their tongue bones are very short. And in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth."  

"T. rex doesn't have jaw morphology that supports chewing motion, so it's more likely that tyrannosaurs pulled off hunks of meat and tossed it back into their throats, like crocs and birds of prey," said Kat Schroeder, a graduate student with the University of New Mexico biology department who is studying T. rex skulls. Schroeder was not involved in the hyoid bone study. 

In case you're wondering, the Jurassic Park franchise as a whole didn't do too badly in the tongue department. A survey of all the T. rex roars depicted on screen shows the tongue stays pretty much anchored in place until Jurassic World comes along and introduces some noticeable tongue gymnastics to the dino roars.

The researchers published their findings today in the journal PLOS ONE.