A new study out of Vanderbilt might completely change how we think about dinosaurs, especially the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel published her findings in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, suggesting the most famous dinosaurs in the world had brains big enough to hold a sufficient load of neurons that allowed them to solve problems and work in packs to devour their prey.
The Washington Post writes, “That’s a level of brain cells similar to that in baboons, potentially making theropods — a group of vicious, two-legged and fast-running dinosaurs that included tyrannosauruses and velociraptors — the “primates of their time,” according to Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist and biologist at Vanderbilt University who wrote the paper.
“What if the asteroid hadn’t happened?” Herculano-Houzel said, referring to the cosmic collision thought to have driven most dinosaurs to extinction. “That’s a whole other world that would have been terrifying.”
The soft tissue that made up dinosaurs’ gray matter rotted away eons ago. So Herculano-Houzel looked at T. rex’s bony brain cases and compared them to the skeletons of its living cousins: the birds.
Extrapolating from emus and ostriches, Herculano-Houzel estimated the T. rex’s cerebrum had as many as 3 billion neurons, comparable to a baboon’s brain. Another terrifying carnivorous dinosaur called the Alioramus, meanwhile, had over 1 billion, similar to a capuchin monkey.”
The Brazilian professor recently took to Twitter to explain her astonishing hypothesis.
It's officially news: T. rex had baboon-like numbers of brain neurons, which means it had what it takes to build tools, solve problems, and live up to 40 years, enough to build a culture! Paper is just out in J Comp Neurol. Reality was actually MORE terrifying than the movies! pic.twitter.com/6HafJVHQlk
— Suzana Herculano-Houzel (@suzanahh) January 5, 2023
“The Tyrannosaurus Rex was the apex of all apex predators in its heyday over 65 million years ago, known more in pop culture for its ferocity than its smarts. But according to a new study, we may have been underestimating how intelligent these towering tyrants were this whole time,” wrote Futurism.com, noting the “terrifying news.”
“In fact, compared to the intelligence of their peers, the T-Rex and other theropods — three clawed, bipedal dinosaurs — may have been the “primates of their time,” said neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, author of the study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, in a video about her research.
With that many neurons, a T-Rex wouldn’t have just possessed uncanny cognition. It also might have lived longer, up to 40 years, Herculano-Houzel estimates. That’s enough time and smarts to potentially be a social creature with its own culture, like primates and whales, and also suggests they may have worked together, too.
The ability to use tools is even on the table — though with their infamously stubby arms, that seems less likely.”
It looks like the next edition of Jurassic Park might in fact need to be a brave, new, and smarter world than we initially thought.