It may not come as a huge surprise to anybody who has seen Jurassic Park, but scientists have discovered the Tyrannosaurus rex could open its mouth really wide.
New research revealed the T.rex could stretch its upper and lower jaws apart to an angle of 80 degrees, indicating Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the giant predator's gaping mouth was largely accurate.
The Tyrannosaurus was by no means the dinosaur whose mouth opened the widest though. The Allosaurus, a much smaller carnivore from the same ‘theropod’ group, could gape its mouth as wide as 92 degrees.
However, it could not achieve the same sustained bite force from a wide range of angles that helped its more famous relative to crunch its serrated six-inch teeth through the flesh and bone of its prey.
Herbivore dinosaurs were found to have a smaller jaw gape, reflecting scientists' knowledge of living plant-eating animal species. The tests showed the Erlikosaurus, a theropod which fed on plants, could only achieve a more restricted 49-degree jaw angle.
Lead scientist Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, from the School of Earth Studies at the University of Bristol, said: "Theropod dinosaurs, such a Tyrannosaurus rex or Allosaurus, are often depicted with widely-opened jaws, presumably to emphasise their carnivorous nature.
"Yet, up to now, no studies have actually focused on the relation between jaw musculature, feeding style and the maximal possible jaw gape.
"All muscles, including those used for closing and opening the jaw, can only stretch a certain amount before they tear. This considerably limits how wide an animal can open its jaws and therefore how and on what it can feed.
"We know from living animals that carnivores are usually capable of larger jaw gapes than herbivores, and it is interesting to see that this also appears to be the case in theropod dinosaurs."
The research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, was conducted using computer-generated virtual models of dinosaur jaws and by making comparisons with crocodiles and birds.
Additional reporting from Press Association
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