Breaking news from the Mesozoic Era is a phrase you might not have expected to hear. Nevertheless, recent research suggests the Tyrannosaurus Rex, that terrifyingly toothsome star of the movie “Jurassic Park,” might have had lips.
A study recently published in the well-regarded journal Science proposes as much. Respectfully—for I wouldn’t want to sound lippy around the experts, who I assume aren’t writing with tongue in cheek—I have questions.
First, how can we be so sure? No leviathan lipstick case was unearthed in Uruguay. No oversized Oxford with a telltale red on its collar was found bedside in Bangladesh. No love letter sealed with a kiss was discovered in Denmark.
Such a note would be suspicious anyway, unless we’re also to believe the newly-lipped Tyrannosaurus Rex’s arms were not too short for writing. Were they only metaphorically stubby-armed? Did disinclination to pick up a check contribute to their demise? Paleontology keeps a conspicuous silence.
Much of the case for dinosaur lips turns on the surprisingly low enamel-wear found on the solitary tooth of one Daspletosaurus, a distant T. Rex relative. Modern-day crocodiles, which are lipless, have substantially more outer-tooth enamel-wear than this solitary prehistoric chopper found in the dirt. Ergo, T. Rexes must have had lips.
So it’s “case closed, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em”? According to my dentist, I have more advanced enamel-wear than most men my age. I hope in the distant future nobody digs up my worn-down chicklets and convinces my descendants I was lipless.
This conclusion is really a mouthful. Glad though I am to have skipped the “checking enamel-wear on crocodiles” booth on career day in high school, I wonder: what if this particular dinosaur simply practiced uncommonly good dental hygiene?
Ockham’s Razor tells us all else being equal, the simplest explanation is the best one. My theory doesn’t smack a new pair of lips on an entire group of reptiles. Were he keeping score, William of Ockham would have it thusly—me: 1, modern science: 0.
Not only is my explanation simpler, it might even explain why this unlucky carnivorous fella died. Perhaps his other single friends, tired of getting shown up whenever “Dashing Dasple” flashed his pearly whites, fast-tracked him for extinction.
Last, the question cui bono—who benefits—must be addressed. There’s no sense being tight-lipped about which competitor stands to gain the most from this conveniently embarrassing discovery. For my money, it’s Big Velociraptor.
That powerful lobby is still smarting from reports—unsourced, mind you—that their fiercest ancestors sported not razor-sharp scales but dainty feathers. Soft plumage hardly reinforces the “terror from above” social media brand they’ve cultivated.
Though they’ve maintained a stiff upper lip, Big-V advocates have been seething ever since that PR debacle. What better payback than commissioning a study in a reputable journal that the mighty T-Rex was prone to the Triassic Period’s equivalent of duck-lipped selfies?
I’m all for following the science wherever it leads. Loose lips, however, sink not only ships, but also hard-earned reputations for ferocity. There’s no sense digging up bones here. I say let the toothy T. Rex be.