Did your childhood include a dinosaur phase? If an early fascination with “Alley Oop” or “The Lost World” or “Jurassic Park” or BBC’s “Walking With Dinosaurs” or one of scores of children’s books led you to spend an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about the age of dinosaurs, join the crowd. The dinosaur (“terrible lizard”) has been a staple of popular culture around the world for more than a century — Charles Dickens mentioned Megalosaurus in “Bleak House.”
More recently, we think fondly of tyrannosaurs fighting with King Kong, chomping Ford Explorers in “Jurassic Park,” destroying urban hubs. In short, we love to think about dinosaurs.
David Hone’s “The Tyrannosaur Chronicles” offers us another opportunity to imagine a world ruled by giant predators 100 million years ago. A specialist on dinosaur biology and behavior, Hone focuses attention on Tyrannosaurs rex (yes, the correct spelling). He explores old truths about dinosaurs and explains how technology and new finds have refined our ideas. Hone is an imaginative writer, curious about everything concerning the 29 members of the tyrannosaur family.
T. rex, I learned, has been the star of paleontological studies, the most studied dinosaur, and the dinosaur we know most about. “The Tyrannosaur Chronicles” explores questions of how T. rex evolved, how its enormous body worked, and what its world was like.
And there are so many intriguing questions: Did Tyrannosaurs rex engage triceratops in fights to the death? Probably only in movies. Most T. rex finds date from a later era than those of its horned co-star, and, besides, large predators generally went after easier meals — juvenile dinosaurs. Was T. rex warm-blooded? Quite possibly, although it would have had to feed enough to keep a huge body heated. Paleontologists now believe that T. rex had a high metabolism, could run at least in short spurts and could live in cold climates.
Were Tyrannosaurs rex intelligent? Were they social animals? Did they actively care for their young? How did they mate? Evidence is slim here, Hone sadly admits, but he carefully examines “the fossil record” to consider such questions.
Were they feathered? Recent fossil finds in China have led Hone and others to conclude that the tyrannosaurs likely wore some kind of plumage for warmth or for display. While it may be hard to envision a 12-ton monster (with huge serrated teeth) covered in a soft down, T. rex was an evolutionary latecomer to the dinosaur world and is thought to have been a lineal ancestor of the birds we see in our backyards.
“The Tyrannosaur Chronicles” will engage the casual dinosaur enthusiast and the reader desiring in-depth explanations and bibliographic detail. Hone’s careful speculation, his clear prose and his occasional whimsy (subheads such as “Walk this way,” “Squishy bits,” and “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”) make this an illuminating and enjoyable guide to the lifestyle of everyone’s favorite theropod.
Tom Zelman teaches English at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles
By: David Hone.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma, 304 pages, $27.