In the dinosaur hall of fame, there's everyone else and then there's T. rex. Even if it wasn't quite the biggest dinosaur carnivore, it is certainly the most famous.
But when it comes to Tyrannosaurus rex, it's worth remembering a couple things. First, that it was just one of many species of tyrannosaur. And second, it was around for a very short period of time. T. rex only existed between 68 and 66 million years ago. Meanwhile, the Age of Dinosaurs lasted from around 245 and 66 million years ago! So while T. rex was maybe the greatest land predator to have ever lived, it's time was relatively short.
So who was the big boss beforehand? There were many top dino predators through history, and we're only just getting to know some of them. Like Ulughbegsaurus!
Though its fossil was originally found in the 1980s, a recent study has shed new light on this dinosaur. We now know that it was an apex meat-eater that lived around 90 million years ago—and it was bigger than the tyrannosaur species that lived in its habitat at the time!
The ruler of its age
Tyrannosaurus' name might mean 'tyrant lizard', but Ulughbegsaurus has a pretty royal name, too. Ulugh Beg was an astronomer, mathematician, and eventually sultan (king) of the Timirud Empire during the mid-1400s. And like the ancient ruler, this dinosaur dominated its surroundings.
With long, serrated teeth, it was 8 metres (26 feet) long and weighed around 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds). When you compare this to the tyrannosaur of the time, Ulughbegsaurus was twice as long and five times the weight. We have a winner!
Ulughbegsaurus belonged to another group of very successful predators—carcharodontosaurs. Meaning 'shark tooth lizards', these were powerful, heavy-set meat-eaters who were generally much bigger than tyrannosaurs. It wasn't until the carcharodontosaurs died out (around 80 million years ago) that tyrannosaurs went from being kind of raptor-like to the massive predators that we know today: think Gorgosaurus, Albertosaurus, and, of course, T. rex.
A long time coming
Though it's wonderful to get to know another dinosaur species, this treat almost didn't happen. The jawbone of Ulughbegsaurus was first found in the 1980s in the Kyzylkum Desert in central Uzbekistan, Asia. But it was forgotten about for years in a Uzbekistani museum until around 2019. You never really know what you'll find in a drawer, right?
Once found again, paleontologists began to study it, giving us a surprising window into the life of a truly mighty dino. Though we'll probably never discover a dinosaur that was mightier than a T. rex, Ulughbegsaurus is a reminder that over the eons, many different animals have worn the crown of 'Top Predator'!