Could I Outrun a Dinosaur?

By Rhys L Griffiths

When I was a child I thought the idea of Jurassic Park was incredible. A place where you could go and see actual real-life dinosaurs! What could be better than that? Then recently I saw Jurassic World. Everything went wrong, all the dinosaurs got loose and a lot of people got eaten. So it got me thinking, if I had to, could I outrun a dinosaur?

Here I am attempting to run away from a (late) T-Rex. All rights reserved science made simple.

Well firstly if we are to answer that question, we need to know how fast us humans can run. The fastest person alive is Jamaican Sprinter Usain Bolt. During the final 100 meter sprint of the World Championships in Berlin 2009, Usain managed to hit 27.8mph (44.72KM/h), which is incredibly fast. Much faster than the average person.  A number of sources claim that the average sprinting speed of an adult is roughly 15mph and so for the purpose of this article I’m going to assume that’s correct. Bearing in mind that if you are being chased by a dinosaur you’re going to go as fast as humanly possible.

The next problem is to work out how fast a dinosaur can move, which is pretty difficult considering they died out roughly 65 million years ago. One way that gives us an idea of their movement is by studying their trackways. A dinosaur trackway is a series of footprints, preserved in sediments as fossils. To work out the speed you need to study the distance between the footprints and look at the size of the feet.  But good trackways are hard to come by and even then you can’t be sure which dinosaur made those tracks. You may be able to narrow it down based on time and location but even then it’s hard to be sure. There’s also a very good possibility that the dinosaur isn’t running at their top speed.

Another way to try and learn the speed of dinosaurs is by looking at their shape, structure and anatomy. Some scientists have reconstructed the skeletons to find out how the bones were connected and then made comparisons with animals that are still around today, looking at their muscle growth and movement. Using the extrapolated information they can make their speed predictions. However, these results are often debated, just look at the Tyrannosaurus rex.

At the turn of the 20th century, the T-Rex was thought of as a fast-moving beast, but that quickly changed. It was thought that the T-Rex would stand upright with its tail dragging along the floor, hindering its ability to move at speed. Since then a lot of scientists spotted similarities between dinosaurs and birds and some used this information to work out how a dinosaur would walk. In a paper entitled “Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion”, researchers studied the way in which chickens walked and then added a plunger to their posterior to replicate a heavy dinosaur-like tail.  You can see the difference in the video below.

 

There have been a lot of predictions about the top speed of the Tyrannosaurus rex but John R. Hutchinson published a study on T-Rex bio-mechanics Claiming that the T-Rex speed was likely between 15 and 25mph. So chances are even if you’re running at your peak speed, the Tyrannosaurus rex will probably still catch you.  You may think, “maybe the best way to escape a T-Rex is to stand still. They can’t see you if you don’t move” and that may sound like a plan but I can explain why maybe that’s not the best idea.

What about other dinosaurs?

In 2007, Williams Sellers and Phillip Manning, Palaeontologists from the University of Manchester, published a study looking at speeds of various dinosaurs using a computer program called Gaitsym. This piece of software allows you to directly control the muscle forces generated by a sensor attached to a computer.  They looked at a number of different dinosaurs including Compsognathus, Velociraptor, Dilophosaurus, Allosaurus and of course, the T-Rex.  To help verify the accuracy of Gaitsym they simulated the running speeds of Humans, Emus and Ostriches. The results can be seen below.

As you can see from the table above, Humans are the slowest. Also all the dinosaurs in this study are carnivorous so that’s not great for us.  We can’t be 100% sure how fast all the dinosaurs were but using science and technology we can have a pretty good estimate that if we did have to race a dinosaur, we wouldn’t win.

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Posted in Biology