JANE moves a little

Mike Henderson, Burpee Museum’s paleontologist, sat in his computer room verbalizing his thoughts on the subjects of Jane and Major League baseball. Mike is from southern Illinois and is a dyed-red St. Louis Cardinals fan. He’s been relishing the great year the Cardinals are having and rubbing it in to all his surrounding Cubs fans. If Mike were to ask whether I were a Cubs fan, I was going to reply, “Well, Native Americans refer to me as ‘Dances With Wheelchairs Around Piles of Dead Redbirds.’” If only Harry Carey were here to punch Mike. Smartly, I turned the subject to Jane.

Actually, besides me, there were no Cubs fans around; the lab was virtually empty because Jane’s bone preparation was complete. Jane’s bones are in the process of being cast in the basement workshop by the same people who prepped her. When I ventured to the workshop, the casters were all standing at medium-high tables upon which rested a sizable flat top. At least two people were at each table. The whole operation is supervised by sculptor Jeff Adams of Mt. Morris.

The casters are using an older technique in which one thin layer of rubber is molded to the bone, followed by another identical layer. This gives a stronger, harder shell, and less rubber is actually used by this technique. Casting bones is safer than cleaning them, safer for the bone and the preparator. Cleaning means harsh, abrasive chemicals, sharp tools and air-particle blasters. The only dangerous thing in casting is the couch, but that’s another story.

Mike Henderson recently visited Los Angeles County Museum to examine fossils of what’s believed to be three young T. rexes. The three specimens are represented by 10 to 15 percent of their total skeleton, and skull parts are the predominant feature. Each rex is a different age, between 10 to 14 years, and this gives Mike a chronology of how young rexes developed. This gives a good comparative study for Jane’s development.

A new article in Nature by paleontologist Gregory M. Erickson of Florida State University and one of the speakers at last February’s Burpee PaleoFest, has got the stern attention of Mike Henderson. Erickson, who discerned Jane’s age by counting her growth rings, believes T. rex became very large in its mid- to late-teen years. Erickson believes young T. rexes were fast, agile, not so big, and lightweight until about 14 years of age. Then they started growing at incredible rates, where he guesstimated weight gains at 5 pounds per day. This growth surge lasted to age 18 or a little past. When Rex was 19 or 20, he was virtually done growing. Erickson claims T. rex only lived to age 30.

When a T. rex reached its adult size, its behavior changed; it could no longer chase prey like the young, agile T. rex youth. Because it’s believed the T. rex family remained a unit for years, this meant the young and old performed different life-important family tasks. Could it be that speedy youths chased prey into the waiting jaws of well-placed and hidden gigantic parents too big to run more than 5 miles per hour, one cumbersome step at a time?

Erickson found 12 growth rings in Jane’s neckbones, making Jane 12. Henderson has no problem with Erickson’s claim of Jane’s age. Was young Jane a fast member in a close-knit T. rex family?

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!