Question of the Week

Did Dinosaurs Die Young?

Sun, 18th May 2008

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Question

Bert Latamore asked:

I am curious about how long the large dinos lived. I have a vague and possibly incorrect memory of hearing on a TV special that the large herbivores could live very long lifespans, up to 1,000 years. Then recently I heard on a science podcast that the T Rex only lived about 20 years. So I would like to know what a dino lifespan was. And I am even more curious as to how scientists can estimate the life span of a dino, given that they are working basically with rock.

Answer

Dr John Nudds, University of Manchester, Palaeontologist:

The first thing that we can say for certain is that no dinosaur ever lived for a thousand years nor indeed for anything approaching that sort of time.

Tyrannosaurus rexIf you compare dinosaurs to present day animals we might expect that the very large herbivores, things like brachiosaurs and diplodocus which were comparable in size to an elephant would have lived, therefore, for 70-80 years.  Maybe a bit more.  Whereas the smaller, more meat eating dinosaurs would have been more comparable to some of today’s larger birds, to which they are closely related. If you think of something like an eagle or raven they live for 20-30 years and that would probably have been the lifespan of a tyrannosaurus rex.

How do we know this?  Dinosaur bone is sometimes preserved in exquisite detail and we can take thin sections of the dinosaur bone and look at the bone histology as we call it – that’s the microarchitecture of the bone, just as we do with modern day bone.  This has shown that some dinosaur bones, especially the long limb bones and also dinosaur teeth grew in distinct layers.  The teeth added new layers on a daily basis and limb bones, on the other hand, often added yearly layers.  Just like counting tree rings to work out the age of a tree we can count the annual layers in a dinosaur bone to work out the age of a dinosaur.

Interestingly, some of this work has been carried out on tyrannosaurus and it’s been shown that the largest known specimen: that’s the one known as Sue, which is in the field museum in Chicago, would have weighed more than 5000kg when living and lived to an age of 28 years.

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Its sort of the question asking 'how long does an animal live for'. There are animals which live for months, years, decades and centuries.

Looking at the closest relatives of the dinosaurs: reptiles, we can see that they live for close to 80 years or more. It is, of course, depending on their body size and diet/metabolism .

Then again creatures like giant tortoises can live for well and truly over 200 years so long as they are sufficient with food and habitat. There would be no reason for a dinosaur not to follow suit. BrodheBoo, Fri, 16th May 2008

But I thoguht that recent research on the DNA sequences inferred from dinosaur fossils confirmed that birds are their closest living relatives?

Chris chris, Fri, 16th May 2008

What has happened to the TNS show now as it's broadcasting Football not exactly this forum's sciences/

And its not only my PC but Turnipsock has the same thing too.
I was looking forward to the show.  rosalind dna, Sun, 18th May 2008



I was listening to TNS via Radio Norfolk today and the programme was interrupted by a cricket report!    Anyone would think sports is the most important thing on this earth according to BBC bosses.    In my opinion it is purely irritating when it interrupts programmes which are only an hour long and we have been looking forward to hearing them.

Anyway I was fascinated by the bit about dinosaurs - at least we were allowed to hear that! Lynda, Sun, 18th May 2008

I missed it all today as it was something about football instead, when I tuned in. I thought the football season finished weeks ago. There was a game on the BBC yesterday, Carlise verses Portugal, what is the point of showing that?

Doc Beaver looks a lot older than 20 years old. turnipsock, Sun, 18th May 2008



I was listening to TNS via Radio Norfolk today and the programme was interrupted by a cricket report!    Anyone would think sports is the most important thing on this earth according to BBC bosses.    In my opinion it is purely irritating when it interrupts programmes which are only an hour long and we have been looking forward to hearing them.

Anyway I was fascinated by the bit about dinosaurs - at least we were allowed to hear that!


Dear Lynda

that's very interesting, I didn't know about this. Can you tell me when this occurred and roughly how often there are interruptions like this? It might have been a mistake and someone played out the wrong thing. However, to take it up with someone I will need the details.

Chris

chris, Mon, 19th May 2008

If we look at crock's which can live for 100 years or more why not dinosaurs.

Of course it might be difficult given the always lurking Tyrannosaurus R.

Ala Alan McDougall, Wed, 25th Jun 2008

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