The Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the most immortalized dinosaurs in movies, where it has always been depicted as a huge predator and scavenger. Now, a new study has come to deduce something that could make T- even more fearsome: it had an intelligence equivalent to that of primates such as baboons.
In fact, compared to the intelligence of their peers, T-Rex and other theropods (bipedal dinosaurs with three claws) may have been the “primates of their time,” said neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, author of the study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology .
According to their findings, theropods had as many neurons in their brains as monkeys do today, and T-Rex boasted “baboon-like” numbers of up to 3 billion neurons. That’s a pretty scary level of intelligence for a house-sized killing machine.
With so many neurons, a T-Rex would not only have possessed amazing cognition, it could also have lived longer, up to 40 years, Herculano-Houzel estimated. That’s enough time and intelligence to potentially be a social creature with its own culture, with the ability to move and work in groups with its peers.
The ability to use tools is even on the table—although with his infamous short, stubby arms , that seems less likely.
T-Rex’s Brain Compared To A Bird
With no theropod brains out there—soft tissues like gray matter rarely fossilize—determining an accurate neuron count for an extinct animal depends on the brains of its modern-day descendants: birds in this case.
“If you can figure out how many neurons go into a bird’s brain of a certain size, and you can figure out how big the brains of different bird-like dinosaurs were, then you can do the math and estimate how many neurons a dinosaur’s brain had.” explained Herculano-Houzel.
That math is relatively simple. Instead, the difficulty was establishing that the proportionality of brain size in birds also applied to dinosaurs, “which is what I just did,” he declared.
But as an essential tenet of her work, the neuroscientist argues that theropods should be treated as a discrete group with their own distinctive features, rather than thinking of dinosaurs as a homogeneous whole. It was from that assumption that she realized that theropods have a similar correlation to pre-extinction birds—or basal birds—when it comes to body mass and brain size. This allowed him to use the neuron counts of modern birds like emus and ostriches and apply the same scaling rules to calculate how many neurons theropods like T-Rex might have had.
This is undoubtedly a great revelation if it holds up, and it may also remind us of an example of theropod intelligence that was shown in what is the most famous movie saga in history: Jurassic Park . There the velociraptors are represented with great intelligence, capable of communicating with each other, solving complex problems and putting together hunting strategies.
Likewise, all this can refer us to what the paleontologist Dale Russell theorized in 1982 , who, taking the Troodon, another theropod, with a weight similar to humans and with an enormous cranial capacity, came to the conclusion that if these creatures had continued to evolve, surely today they would have an intelligence similar to or superior to ours and a more anthropomorphic body: a dinosauroid .
Source: Suzana Herculano-Houzel
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