How evolutionary changes in body size are brought about by variance in developmental timing and/or growth rates (also known as heterochrony) is a topic of considerable interest in evolutionary biology1. In particular, extreme size change leading to gigantism occurred within the dinosaurs on multiple occasions2. Whether this change was brought about by accelerated growth, delayed maturity or a combination of both processes is unknown. A better understanding of relationships between non-avian dinosaur groups and the newfound capacity to reconstruct their growth curves make it possible to address these questions quantitatively3. Here we study growth patterns within the Tyrannosauridae, the best known group of large carnivorous dinosaurs, and determine the developmental means by which Tyrannosaurus rex, weighing 5,000 kg and more, grew to be one of the most enormous terrestrial carnivorous animals ever. T. rex had a maximal growth rate of 2.1 kg d-1, reached skeletal maturity in two decades and lived for up to 28 years. T. rex's great stature was primarily attained by accelerating growth rates beyond that of its closest relatives.
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We thank O. Rieppel and B. Simpson (The Field Museum), L. Chiappe (Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History), P. Larson and N. Larson (Black Hills Institute), B. Stein and M. Triebold (Triebold Paleontology), D. Evans (Indianapolis Children's Museum), C. Mehling (American Museum of Natural History), S. Williams, M. Henderson and L. Cranford (Burpee Museum of Natural History), J. Gardner, D. Tanke and D. Brinkman (Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology), T. Carr (University of Toronto), F. W. King and K. Krysco (Florida Museum of Natural History), K. Womble (Florida State University), M. Bayless (Berkeley, California) and A. Woodward (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) for assistance with this research. The NSF and the College of Arts and Sciences of Florida State University generously funded this project.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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Erickson, G., Makovicky, P., Currie, P. et al. Gigantism and comparative life-history parameters of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs. Nature 430, 772–775 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02699
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