A preliminary report on a new specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex named 'Barbara'

Read the introduction on this page, and access the full report here


Tyrannosaurus rex has lived in infamy in the minds of the public since the first skeleton was mounted in the American Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaur Hall in December 1906. It captured the imagination of adults and children alike most probably because it was unbelievable until that time that a predator could be so big. In a way, this confirmed that the monsters that lived in our dreams were real. This legendary dinosaur became even more famous with the fabulous success of digital animation as seen in Jurassic Park and its sequels.

Tyrannosaurus rex is still that iconic, predatory dinosaur. But as a biologic organism, T. rex is also regarded as the epitome of evolution for a terrestrial carnivore that hunted, killed, and scavenged. T. rex only lived in North America at the very latest time during the Age of Dinosaurs, in the Late Cretaceous over 66 million years ago. The continent was sub-tropical at the time and provided a forested environment that surrounded rivers, lakes, and floodplains much like the coastal region of the southern U.S. today.

Tyrannosaurus rex was the top predator in this dinosaur-rich ecosystem (Sampson and Loewen, 2005; DePalma et al. 2012) and its huge mass allowed it to prey on other massive dinosaurs such as Triceratops and Edmontosaurus (Meers 2002). T. rex is also well-known for its monstrous proportions that include an extremely large and highly specialized skull that encased a very large brain (Witmer and Ridgely 2009) with the largest orbits of any land animal. Although its skeleton was powered by massive hind limbs, it was not considered a fast runner (Stevens 2006) but was extremely agile (Snively et al. 2019). However, it was an obligate biped and may have also used the hind limbs to engage or hold down prey items.

In this paper we report on a massive injury to the tarsus of this animal that probably encumbered its lifestyle to a great extent.

Sharing the science

We’re pleased to be able to share Preliminary Scientific Reports to help visitors who come to see these incredible T. rex understand more about them.

These reports are prepared by two of the world’s top therapod paleontologists, Dr David Burnham (University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum) and Dr John Nudds (Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester), who have studied both Peter and Barbara in their university laboratories for many months. Their research has identified the unique pathologies of each specimen, such as the injury to Barbara’s leg and the marks on Peter’s leg. As these reports are preliminary, they’re not peer-reviewed yet.

It’s not standard practice for a museum to share this much information when a specimen is being exhibited for the first time, but with the benefactor’s agreement we’re keen to share the initial findings, to enhance the learning experiences that having these two specimens in our Museum provides for the people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Updates to the Preliminary Scientific Reports will be an ongoing process and will most likely span decades, rather than years.