A TITANIC duel to the death has cast light on one of the great riddles of the dinosaur age.
Two monstrous creatures – one a top predator, the other a massive three-horned plant eater – killed each other in a savage battle before being frozen in time, scientists believe. The carnivore had its skull smashed, while teeth were found embedded in the neck of its prey, a Triceratops. Their fossilised skeletons were found together where the struggle ended 67 million years ago, in a remote and arid region of Montana known as Hell’s Creek.
It is only the second time a pair of dinosaurs locked in combat have been unearthed. But what has scientists especially excited is what the find revealed about the 20-24ft long, two-legged meat eater.
At first glance it looked like a smaller version of Tyrannosaurus rex, the apex predator of the Cretaceous era, but there were key differences, in particular its graceful head and large forelimbs.
Scientists believe the fossil provides clear evidence that T-rex shared its habitat with a smaller cousin, Nanotyrannus, in much the same way lions and cheetahs hunt together on the African savannah.
The discovery could end the debate that has raged between experts who believe in Nanotyrannus, and others who say the creature’s fragmented fossils belonged to T-rex’s juvenile offspring.
Philip Manning, a member of the research team from the University of Manchester, told the British Science Festival at the University of Newcastle: “There was something that caught this Triceratops off guard. It was a bad day for both of them. If you’re cornered by a top predator you will do everything you can to stop yourself being eaten.
“You will fight. Here is an example where two organisms did come to blows, and it looks like they killed each other.”
There are plans to sell the rock containing the fossils at auction, where it could fetch up to $9 million (£6,400,000).