Teenage T.Rex

MOHAMAD HAGHANI/STOCKTREK IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

BIG BAD DINOS: Dinosaurs like T. rex (pictured) are considered megatheropods—two-legged meat eaters that weighed more than 2,200 pounds as adults.

The age of the dinosaurs is known for its giant reptiles. But even the biggest carnivores of the time, like Tyrannosaurus rex, were once smaller teenagers. New research shows that those young meat eaters may have played an important part in prehistoric ecosystems<.

Paleontologists at the University of New Mexico investigated more than 550 dinosaur species from 43 communities. The researchers wanted to learn why the fossil record contained so many small carnivores and large carnivores but few medium-sized ones. The team discovered the size gap may have been caused by juvenile members of large carnivorous dinosaur species, like T. rex, outcompeting other medium-sized species.

“These mid-sized teens actually influenced the ecosystem just as much, if not more, than the big, bad adults,” says Katlin Schroeder, the biology Ph.D. candidate who led the study.

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