By Hashi B. Roko: Department of Friends, Japari University
It is undeniable that the Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the most iconic organisms to have ever roamed the planet. It was fearsome. It was in Jurassic Park. But they’re also all dead. Now I get it, kids love the T. rex. They were big, loud, lumbering creatures that wandered the Earth and hunted and ate whatever dinosaurs they wanted, much like how kids somehow wish that they were. But studies have shown that it probably sucked to be a T. rex; they weren’t immune from ailments that plague people even today, like mercury poisoning and gaut.1,2 ONe could even go so far as to say that the T. rex experience is overrated, and most certainly disproportionally represented in modern media. Thus, it is my imperative to remind the scientific community of a living example of a -rex-suffixed king of beasts: Balaeniceps rex.
B. rex, more commonly known as the shoebill, is a living monstroity that serves as proof that birds are most closely related to dinosaurs. The genus Balaeniceps stems from the Latin for “whale-head”, intuiting the horror experienced by the first surviving observer of the B. rex‘s gargantuan bill. While not as tall in stature as the T. rex, B. rexes have been noted to stand anywhere between 1.07 to 1.5m tall (approx. 3.5-5 feet tall)4 and not humans, though their hunting behaviour lends itself to one of the B. rex’s most striking characteristics: its stare.
Contrary to appearances, the B. rex does not impale fish by staring daggers at them, but rather it remains motionless in the marshy wetlands that it inhabits and hunts in, watching the water until a hapless fish can be struck and captured by an explosive outstretching of its neck and absurdly large bill.5
Given the B. rex’s propensity to miss these said strikes, it is in and of itself a miracle that this species has managed to sustain itself for as long as it has. Further compounding the nightmarish existence of these creatures, B. rexes vocalize not by roaring, but by a bill clattering display that some internet denizens have likened to the sound of automatic gunfire5. This may be a benefit for those still afraid of the B. rex at this point, as one can take a small comfort in knowing that the sound of a machine gun heralds the coming of a beast that can and most likely would stare you to death.
While the last major appearance of the T. rex in film dates back to 2018, its popularity amongst small children and dinosaur enthusiasts alike affords it a degree of invulnerability from being forgotten in the public eye. However, the B. rex has not shared in this status, having been resigned to a fate of relative obscurity despite being crowned with the –rex suffix and sharing rhyming nomenclature with its tyrannical partner. Fortunately for public attitudes appear to have changed for the better for our friend the B. rex, having both enjoyed a resurgence of interest in 2017 as a result of a major televised Japanese animated series6 as well as more recently appearing in the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV that has a free trial up to level 60 including the Heavensward expansion.
Not all of us are cut out for the life of T. rexes, stomping through their territorial grounds, roaring at lesser beings and sinking their fangs into fresh prey, like a PI with their lab members. But in the case of the T. rex, you may very well find yourself wandering around a forest, suffering from mercury poisoning and gout. Instead I would imagine that many of us would prefer the humble and peaceful life of the B. rex; feasting on freshly caught lungfish, plucked from the providing waters of the wetland. In our habitat. Unbothered. Well-hydrated. Flourishing.
About the Authors
H.B.R. is a Fellow Friend at Japari University, Japari Park.
H.B.R stared at this manuscript until it materialized into existence.
Conflicts of Interest
H.B.R. declares an intense and sustained interest.
- Meyer, K. W. et al. Biogenic carbonate mercury and marine temperature records reveal global influence of Late Cretaceous Deccan Trap. Nat Commun 10, 5356 (2019).
- Rothschild, B. M., Tanke, D. & Carpenter, K. Tyrannosaurs suffered from gout. Nature 387, 357-357 (1997)
- National Geographic. Shoebill Stork vs. Lungfish | National Geographic
- Shoebill stork | The Dallas World Aquarium. https://dwazoo.com/animal/shoebill0stork/(2014).
- LazyReplays. When a shoebill comes to greet you, it sounds like a gunfight just broke out.
- Fukano, Y., Tanaka, Y. & Soga, M. Zoos and animated animals increase public interest in and support for threatened animals. Science of the Total Environment 704, 135352 (2020).
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