The burning question in palaeontology: can a Tyrannosaurus swallow an adult human whole?

Thanks to an unusually mounted Tyrannosaurus I was able to delve into this important issue in palaeontology. While it was famously noted in a paper that a Tyrannosaurus wouldn’t need to eat too many lawyers to keep its metabolism ticking over, the question remains, quite how would, or even could it, consume a human all but whole.

Here you can see that my head and shoulders (my widest point, and I’m a bit above-average sized for a human male) fit through the space between the two scapulae, gastralia and dorsals. It’s a bit of a tight fit, but I can make it. This might be a struggle for rexy, but is probably not impossible. While I have no photo, I also checked to see if I could get my shoulders through the back of the jaws and again it’s possible, though it’s an even more narrow fit this time.

So there you have it. It does indeed seem that a Tyrannosaurus really could swallow a whole human in one go, though anyone much bigger than me would probably be a morsel too big. While clearly frivolous, this does show just how big some chunks of flesh and bone could potentially be consumed by an animal this size, and even a decent sized hadrosaur could probably be got down in just a dozen or so bites over a few meals.

19 Responses to “The burning question in palaeontology: can a Tyrannosaurus swallow an adult human whole?”

  1. 1 Julia 23/08/2011 at 8:17 am

    So still a very valid way to scare children then. Excellent.

    And this adds a little credibility to the T.rex eating the lawyer in “Jurassic Park”…

  2. 2 David 23/08/2011 at 8:20 am

    But surely the neck would be a lot narrower than that..

    • 3 David Hone 23/08/2011 at 8:59 am

      Well it depends how they eat – snakes eath things bigger than their own heads / necks. The question is will the oesophagus stretch that much and my suspicion is yes. And this is hardly a big rex, it’s nothing like as big as Sue say.

  3. 4 Mark Wildman 23/08/2011 at 10:46 am

    And let’s face it, you would hardly be swallowed fully inflated. You would at least be a little tenderised and compressed, even if you were wholly “intact” when swallowed.

  4. 5 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. 23/08/2011 at 2:12 pm

    They could definitely eat a Kristi Curry Rogers or a Lindsay Zanno whole. Might need a bite or two for some one a tad more voluminous like me or thee…

    • 6 David Hone 23/08/2011 at 2:39 pm

      Now Tom, this can only lead on the path to darkness (and collegiate fall-out) if we start trying to calculate *which* of our friends would require chewing. Though on the upside, I can see an awesome new scale of gape-size in theropods. Sue might be considered a Holtz, but Scotty might rank as only a Hone and Big Al could be a Zanno…..

  5. 8 Christopher 24/08/2011 at 6:10 am

    May I be so bold as to ask which paper included the lawyer note?

    Because that is very funny.

  6. 11 Zhen 24/08/2011 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you for standing next to the skeleton! I always love pictures of people next to them for size and scale comparison.

    BTW, is that a generic T.rex skeleton or is it based on any specific specimen? Judging from the head, he looks like Samson.

    • 12 Brian Choo 29/08/2011 at 1:34 pm

      I believe that is a cast of Bucky (Children’s Museum of Indianapolis 2001.90.1) who is a considerably smaller critter than Sampson.

  7. 13 Ricardipus 30/08/2011 at 5:45 pm

    In response to Thomas, above, Google Books even lets you read that particular calculation:

    Presuming that URL shortening worked. Searching Google Books for Brett-Surman Farlow lawyer worked ok though.

  8. 14 vasikaudurawane 01/03/2015 at 2:58 pm

    Yes…I see me…at 5’5” and with a lean build going down there quite easily :)

  1. 1 …and what about Carcharodontosaurus? « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 29/08/2011 at 7:55 am
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