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24 September 2014

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You are in: Manchester > Science > Science features > The dinosaur race

Compsognathus

The winner: Compsognathus

The dinosaur race

If a young relative obsessed with giant lizards ever asks you: ‘What was the fastest dinosaur in the world?’, we have the answer. It wasn't T. rex. It wasn't a Velociraptor. (And it wasn't a ‘do-you-think-he-saurus’ either.) Find out more:

Using a powerful supercomputer, researchers at the University of Manchester calculated the running speeds of five meat-eating dinosaurs: a 3kg Compsognathus, a 20kg Velociraptor, a 430kg Dilophosaurus, a 1.4 tonne Allosaurus and the six tonne T. rex.

Stan the T. rex at Manchester Museum

Stan the T. rex at Manchester Museum

The unique study involved feeding information about the creatures’ skeletal and muscular structure into the computer so it could work out how the animals were best able to move. Despite the computer’s huge processing power, the computer still took a week to learn the biomechanics of each animal!

And by inputting details of an emu (30 mph) and ostrich (35 mph), they were also able to check how accurately it could calculate their top running speeds.

And the winnner is...

What the unique study revealed was that Compsognathus – at only 2–3 feet long, one of the smallest known dinosaurs - would have won the dinosaur race at a canter. The agile creature could have reached speeds of almost 40mph – that’s 5 mph faster than an ostrich, the fastest animal on two legs.

  • Compsognathus   39.8 mph
  • Velociraptor         24.2 mph
  • Dilophosaurus      23.5 mph
  • Allosaurus           21.0 mph
  • Tyrannosaurus     17.9 mph
  • Human                17.7 mph

How fast Stan ran

The legendary Tyrannosaurus rex, however, could only run at speeds at up to 18 mph – fractionally quicker than an athlete or footballer, but a long way behind Compsognathus.

The project was of particular interest to Manchester Museum which has its own skeleton of a T. rex – called Stan - which is displayed in a running position.

“The figures we have produced are the best estimate to date as to how fast these prehistoric creatures could run,” said the Museum’s senior palaeontologist Professor Phil Manning

“Since the movie Jurassic Park, scientists have questioned the speed of these dinosaurs and some even wondered whether Tyrannosaurus could have run at all,” he said.

“Our research, which used the minimum leg muscle mass T. rex required for movement, suggests that while not incredibly fast, this carnivore was certainly capable of running and would have little difficulty in chasing down David Beckham, for instance.”

Not all bad then eh?

last updated: 28/03/2008 at 10:52
created: 19/09/2007

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