The stories beneath the bones

Peter and Barbara, once apex predators and now household names, have proved a huge sensation since their arrival last year. But who are our resident T. rex, and what can they tell us about their prehistoric pasts?

It’s easy to understand humankind’s fascination with dinosaurs; they’re big, they’re scary, and they’re frozen in a time only accessible through our wildest imaginations.

Some 66 million years posthumously, the Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in Te Ao Mārama mutely remind us that even the biggest most fearsome creatures live on nature’s terms. No matter your position in the food chain, your survival is ultimately a game of luck and chance.

Skin, scales, feathers – any outward trace these great lizards may have had are long composted away. Only the bones of these creatures remain to tell us what their experience on our planet was probably like.

A dinosaur’s skeleton provides us only a glimpse of their lives. We can make assumptions about the way they navigated the world; how they moved, hunted, slept. But on an individual level, only the most difficult moments of a dinosaur’s life remain etched into their bones.

CSI: Late Cretaceous period

CSI: Late Cretaceous period

Through a great injury to his leg bones, Peter, our first T. rex in residence tells us a tragic story of great suffering. Peter’s femur and tibia reveal a devastating injury which likely lead to his death.

With evidence of crushing, piercing, and scraping deep into his bones – this injury was no accident. Peter was the victim of a prehistoric dino-cide, and the culprit: a fellow T. rex. Close inspection of the site of injury reveals bitemarks which match the size and shape of a T. rex bite, likely the only creature with a biteforce strong enough to crush through bone in this way.

With no trace of repair around the site of impact, we can determine that Peter didn’t survive this blow, dying before his bones were able to heal.

Further toothmarks found in the area of injury suggest that soon after his death, a juvenile member of the Tyrannosaurus family made a snack of Peter, though not quite a whole meal. We can only guess at the reasons for the sudden loss of appetite, but T. rex was probably not the safest choice of protein, with potential risks of disease, mutually shared parasites, and the threat posed by other predators who may have loomed nearby.  

A story of survival

A story of survival

Barbara, our incredible new female specimen has a fascinating story of her own to tell. Like Peter, Barbara suffered a debilitating injury, one that had the potential to prove fatal. Though not immediately life-threatening, this injury would have prevented Barbara from hunting for food for an extended period of time.

What we don’t know is how she managed to survive during this extended period of healing. If a human were to suffer a similar injury, we could turn to family or the community to help keep us going. Did Tyrannosaurus rex also share this ability to look out for one another? Perhaps T. rex navigated the harsh arena of the prehistoric world together as a pack or a pair. Or maybe Barbara was a lucky scavenger, resourcefully piecing meals together from the scraps of other predators and successfully staving off hunger for several arduous months.

Barbara was ultimately made of tougher stuff. She recovered from this injury, and although she would have walked with a pronounced limp, it would be the mark of a survivor.

Barbara: mother to be

Barbara: mother to be

Buried within Barbara’s bones is a secret that would have otherwise been invisible without the advent of modern science. When CT scanning the site of her injury, researchers discovered another fascinating chapter of Barbara’s life on earth: motherhood.

Having overcome the physical trauma of her foot injury, Barbara was able to heal well enough to mate, and to carry young. To prepare for offspring, T. rex, much the same as modern birds, store some of the necessary nutrients within their bones. Calcium, which is required to produce hard eggshells, is stored throughout hollow spaces in Barbara's bones. Further confirmed by keratin-sulfate testing, Barbara's status as an expectant mother puts her in an incredibly rare cohort of Tyrannosaurus rex - with only two other known pregnant specimens on scientific record. 

Peter and Barbara are with us until late 2023. Don't miss your chance to see them on display at Auckland Museum - the only place in the world you can see an adult male and female T. rex on display together.


On display now

Double trouble

First there was Peter, now meet Barbara. Don’t miss two of the rarest, real T. rex skeletons ever discovered on display now in Te Ao Mārama South Atrium.