“Could a T. Rex lift a woolly mammoth?”

Woolly Mammoth restoration at the Royal British Columbia Museum. (Image Credit: WolfmanSF)

When my daughter first asked me this question the answer seemed obvious. No. T. Rex lived 65-80 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous Period. The first woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) didn’t appear until millions of years later, in the Pleistocene.

The woolly mammoth wasn’t the first mammoth to appear on Earth, but unfortunately for our proposed scenario, its earliest Mammuthus ancestor still didn’t show up until the Pliocene Epoch, millions of years after the last potentially mammoth-hoisting T. Rex had died out.

So our T. Rex would never have gotten the chance.

But what if time were no obstacle?

“What if they met anyway?” my daughter wanted to know.

If a smack-down between a T. Rex and a woolly mammoth were to happen…

“Don’t make them fight, Mommyo.”

So if a woolly mammoth were to fall off a cliff as a T. Rex was walking by, would the T. Rex have enough strength in those scrawny little arms to help the mammoth back on its feet?

T. Rex’s famously tiny arms were a mere 3 feet long on an animal that easily reached 40 feet long. (My arm, for comparison, appears to be just over 2 feet long, while my 4-year-old daughter’s is a mere 16 inches.)

Still, famously tiny apparently doesn’t mean famously scrawny. Although a T. Rex’s arms may not be that much longer than yours or mine, the bones in those arms are three times as thick as a human arm bone. Wrap those babies in muscles and tendons and you’ve got a pretty good surge in strength over the average human arm as well, with many studies claiming the T. Rex could hoist an impressive-sounding 400 pounds.

Then again, so can the much lighter weight Liao Hui of China. So maybe that’s not so impressive. Especially when you have a 6-8 ton (12,000-16,000 pound) woolly mammoth to lift. There’s no way a T. Rex could have lifted even a 6 ton mammoth with those puny arms.

“What about a baby, Mommyo? Could a T. Rex lift a baby mammoth?”

According to the Kyodo News Service, a frozen 6-month-old baby mammoth was found in Russia in July 2007. The baby weighed in at approximately 110 pounds.

So if a frozen baby mammoth were to fall off a cliff as a T. Rex were walking by, the T. Rex could have easily helped him back onto his feet. Assuming the fall (or the freeze) didn’t kill the baby mammoth first.

And while the T. Rex could chomp 500 lbs of meat in a single bite, Mama Mammoth wouldn’t have to worry about that happening to her baby in our scenario. Since my little Caterpickle is requiring our hypothetical T. Rex to behave like a gentleman this morning, our friend T. Rex will only use his arms to lift the baby mammoth, and a T. Rex’s arms aren’t long enough to reach his mouth.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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