T. rex's long legs were made for marathon walking

May 13, 2020

Long legs may make good runners, but they're great for walking, too. Scientists have generally assumed that long-limbed dinosaurs evolved their leggy proportions for speed to catch prey and avoid predators.

But a new study by the University of Maryland's Thomas Holtz and his colleagues suggests that long legs evolved among the biggest dinosaurs to help them conserve energy and go the distance as they ambled along searching for prey. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE on May 13, 2020.

"The assumption tends to be that animals with adaptations for running, such as long legs, are adapted for a higher maximum speed, but this paper shows that there's more to running than top speed," said Thomas Holtz, principal lecturer in the UMD Department of Geology. "When you're a bigger animal, those adaptations may also be for endurance and efficiency. It may be about being a marathoner rather than a sprinter."

Holtz and his colleagues analyzed a variety of metrics like limb proportions, size ratio, body mass and gaits to estimate the top speeds of more than 70 species from a group of dinosaurs called theropods. Theropods ranged in size from less than a half-pound to more than nine tons. They included Tyrannosaurus rex and the many other two-legged predators that dominated the age of dinosaurs for 180 million years. Bipedalism and running speed have often been cited as major contributors to their success.

The study revealed a more nuanced story. According to the new analysis, longer legs were associated with higher top speeds in small and medium-sized dinosaurs, but that didn't hold true for dinosaurs weighing over 2,200 pounds. Scientists have known that larger body size can limit speed, and the study showed that large dinosaur species with longer legs were no faster than their stubby-limbed brethren. But they moved more efficiently.

By calculating how much energy each dinosaur expended while moving at walking speeds, the researchers found that among the largest dinosaurs, those with longer legs needed less energy to cruise around.

"That's actually a very beneficial savings, because predators tend to spend a great deal of their time foraging, searching for prey," Holtz said. "If you are burning less fuel during the foraging part of the day, that's an energy savings that dinosaurs with shorter leg forms didn't get."

These results highlight the often-overlooked impact of body proportions on running ability and the limiting effect of large body size on running speed. Clearly, there are different kinds of runners. This work should broaden the discussion about what it means to be adapted for running.
-end-
In addition to Holtz, this work was conducted by collaborators from Mount Mary College, Keck School of Medicine of USC and McGill University.

The research paper, "The fast and the frugal: Divergent locomotory strategies drive limb lengthening in theropod dinosaurs," T. Alexander Dececchi, Aleksandra M. Mloszewska, Thomas R. Holtz Jr., Michael B. Habib, Hans C.E. Larsson, was published in the journal PLOS ONE on May 13, 2020.

Media Contact: Kimbra Cutlip, 301-405-9463, kcutlip@umd.edu

University of Maryland
College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
2300 Symons Hall
College Park, Md. 20742
http://www.cmns.umd.edu
@UMDscience

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $175 million.

University of Maryland

Related Dinosaurs Articles from Brightsurf:

Ireland's only dinosaurs discovered in antrim
The only dinosaur bones ever found on the island of Ireland have been formally confirmed for the first time by a team of experts from the University of Portsmouth and Queen's University Belfast, led by Dr Mike Simms, a curator and palaeontologist at National Museums NI.

Baby dinosaurs were 'little adults'
Paleontologists at the University of Bonn (Germany) have described for the first time an almost complete skeleton of a juvenile Plateosaurus and discovered that it looked very similar to its parents even at a young age.

Bat-winged dinosaurs that could glide
Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Some dinosaurs could fly before they were birds
New research using the most comprehensive study of feathered dinosaurs and early birds has revised the evolutionary relationships of dinosaurs at the origin of birds.

Tracking Australia's gigantic carnivorous dinosaurs
North America had the T. rex, South America had the Giganotosaurus and Africa the Spinosaurus - now evidence shows Australia had gigantic predatory dinosaurs.

Ancient crocodiles walked on two legs like dinosaurs
An international research team has been stunned to discover that some species of ancient crocodiles walked on their two hind legs like dinosaurs and measured over three metres in length.

Finding a genus home for Alaska's dinosaurs
A re-analysis of dinosaur skulls from northern Alaska suggests they belong to a genus Edmontosaurus, and not to the genus recently proposed by scientists in 2015.

Can we really tell male and female dinosaurs apart?
Scientists worldwide have long debated our ability to identify male and female dinosaurs.

In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid -- not volcanoes
Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, according to an international, Yale-led team of researchers.

Discriminating diets of meat-eating dinosaurs
A big problem with dinosaurs is that there seem to be too many meat-eaters.

Read More: Dinosaurs News and Dinosaurs Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.