If you thought you knew tyrannosaurs, think again. Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family provides a snapshot of dinosaur life and explores how tyrannosaurs became the world’s top predators with their massive skulls, powerful jaws and bone-crunching teeth. While the most famous member of this family was the mighty T. rex, tyrannosaurs came in all shapes and sizes, including the Guanlong or ‘crown dragon’ and the tiny Dilong or ‘emperor dragon’ with a skeleton just one metre long.

Twenty or more Tyrannosaurs

An exciting new exhibition from the Australian Museum in Sydney is on show at Te Papa now. Called Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family, the exhibition will change your perception of the world’s favourite dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex, and its ferocious relatives.

Tyrannosaurus rex (Greek for ‘Tyrant Lizard King’) first came to the world’s attention in the early 1900s when it was named by Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History. It quickly gained a singular place in the popular imagination, epitomising all that is huge, fierce and awe-inspiring about Earth’s ancient past.

T. rex is just one among many species in the Tyrannosaurus superfamily. Through the twentieth century our view of tyrannosaurs did not change radically – they were all huge, massive-skulled, two-fingered monsters from the Late Cretaceous period of North America and Asia.

Recent discoveries, however, have turned that view on its head. Tyrannosaur fossils are being unearthed at a remarkable rate – six species in 2010 alone – and not just in North America and Asia, but also in Europe. They include a small feathered tyrannosaur from China, a massive feathered tyrannosaur from the same area and ancient long-snouted tyrannosaurs from the Jurassic period in Europe, Asia and North America that look nothing like a T. rex!

Inspired by these discoveries, the Australian Museum decided to put together the story of the tyrannosaur in a new exhibition, Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family. To assist with planning and preparation, Anne Musser, a vertebrate palaeontologist with a longstanding connection to the Museum, travelled to Montana in the United States, the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia in 2011, then the United Kingdom in 2013. Her travel and research illuminated the long and dramatic history of tyrannosaurs and their huge diversity in terms of scale, shape and surface.

The resulting exhibition reflects these themes. Exhibits include a huge T. rex, nicknamed ‘Scotty’, from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan north of Montana; another spectacular tyrannosaur, Albertosaurus, from the neighbouring province of Alberta; and, from China, the complete skeleton of a tiny feathered Dilong, just over a metre and a half long when grown.

There were so many different species, over twenty now known, and all of them feature in the Tyrannosaurs exhibition. It is, indeed, the perfect opportunity to ‘meet the family’!

An exhibition developed and toured by the Australian Museum. Principal Partner Mitre 10 Mega.