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Paleontologists find huge T. Rex skull in Montana

Last name Love, first name Tufts (for real)

Dave DeMar/Burke Museum

Two volunteer paleontologists have found one of the largest T. Rex skeletons ever.  The new specimen is especially notable because the 2,500-pound skull is mostly intact, making it only the 15th complete skull in the world. It has a cutesy name — "Tufts-Love Rex," after the people who found it — and could tell us more about how dinosaurs grew and ate.

Luke Tufts and Jason Love, paleontology volunteers at Seattle’s Burke Museum, discovered their dinosaur at Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, a site often called "a paleontologist's dream" because important fossils of fish, reptiles, mammals and, yes, T. Rex and Triceraptops have all been found there. The volunteers — part of a University of Washington expedition — spent a month this summer excavating the bones. So far, they’ve unearthed a fifth of the body, including the pelvis, skull, and part of its jaw. There's probably more of the skeleton still in the ground.

We know some important things about Tufts-Love based on what we have of the skeleton so far. It’s about 85 percent the size of the biggest T. Rex ever found and probably lived 66.3 million years ago, close to when the dinosaurs ended up going extinct. From the size of the skull, we can tell that Tufts-Love only lived for about 15 years, half of the usual T. Rex lifespan.

It's Tuft-Love's 4-foot skull that's most exciting. A team of 45 people spent weeks digging it out from under 20 tons of rock. It’s the shape of the skull that confirmed that Tufts Love was, in fact, a T. Rex. T. Rexes, famous for their role in film and popular culture, were about 20 feet tall and 40 feet long.

Tufts-Love will tell us "important information about the growth and possible eating habits of these magnificent animals," according to Burke Museum researcher Jack Horner.

The skull will be displayed at the Burke until October, when scientists begin studying it in earnest. The team will look for more pieces next summer.


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