'Prehistoric Planet' shows tender side of fearsome predator Tyrannosaurus rex with nuzzles, kisses

·4 min read

The Tyrannosaurus rex has been a screen superstar in the "Jurassic Park" franchise, showing the dinosaur's awesome killing power.

Apple TV+'s "Prehistoric Planet" shows a very different side to the once-mighty predator – a tender loving side.

Wednesday's episode of the five-night docuseries (now streaming), continues its rare natural view of life in the cretaceous period with a snout-nuzzling, T. rex mating scene.

"Movies and TV shows have portrayed them in action-packed activities," says paleontologist Darren Naish, who worked as a consultant on "Prehistoric Planet" to ensure the screen depictions of T. rex and other period animals were accurate. "But they must have done all the other needed things – meet other members of their kind, socialize with them, reproduce with them."

It's all family-friendly and educational in the dinosaur-heavy series, created by the BBC Natural History Unit ("Planet Earth").

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The T. rex pair nuzzle in "Prehistoric Planet."
The T. rex pair nuzzle in "Prehistoric Planet."

Working with producer Jon Favreau and the team that created the photorealistic visual effects used in  films like "The Lion King," the series shows the period's now-extinct creatures as if a film crew was shooting them 66 million years ago.

Famed British naturalist commentator David Attenborough adds to the natural history heft with his narration, illuminating the T. rex courtship ritual. The scene begins with an older male tyrannosaur, injured after battling a triceratops, meeting a female at a riverbed.

The old male T. rex meets the younger female. And it's tense at first.
The old male T. rex meets the younger female. And it's tense at first.

The meeting could lead either to fight or fancy. But the male shows a courtship posture and  utters a low-frequency vocalization to the receptive female. This behavior, like many of the "Prehistoric Planet" dinosaur depictions, is derived from phylogenetic bracketing – studying the extinct dinosaur's living family tree, from birds to crocodiles and alligators.

"We've got scientific reasons for being very confident for this behavior,"  Naish says. "We discussed this behind the scenes in the most detailed way, preparing for this. So in terms of exactly what to show, we knew exactly what was happening. And it's the first time people will see this type of behavior realistically, from a natural history background."

The male signals that he's more interested in mating.
The male signals that he's more interested in mating.

The two nuzzle with their snouts, an act derived from a 2017 report in the journal Scientific Reports that shows the T. rex snouts "were more sensitive than human fingertips." This was useful in many areas, including courtship, in which tyrannosaurids "might have rubbed their sensitive faces together as a vital part of pre-copulatory play," according to the journal.

"It's like a T. rex kiss," says series producer Tim Walker.

The T-Rex in nature during "Prehistoric Planet." The backgrounds were real, while the dinosaurs were created virtually.
The T-Rex in nature during "Prehistoric Planet." The backgrounds were real, while the dinosaurs were created virtually.

The scene fades with the tyrannosaur pair retiring to a jungle clearing, a real tropical location. The series features many stunning backdrops with the dinosaurs created virtually in a way that mimics real photography.

In this mating scene, it's helpful that the foreground includes strategically located tropical trees for family viewing (and the couple's privacy).

"The target audience for this series is absolutely everyone," Walker says. "We don't want to offend anyone's sensibilities. We do want to do a clear representation of the natural world."

The ammonite mating is brilliant but short-lived.
The ammonite mating is brilliant but short-lived.

"Prehistoric Planet" features other fascinating, wildly diverse mating rituals.

The scaphite ammonite mating sequence shows males and females coming together in a brilliant light show of mating success in the sea. But the dazzling display is short-lived. Science shows modern cephalopods – a group that includes these extinct sea creatures – die after mating, so the filmmakers re-created the mass mortalities of the ammonites being washed on a real shoreline. This had been seen only in fossil records.

The pterosaur Barbaridactylus mating ritual provides some comic relief with a "sneaky" male pretending to be a female so he could evade the jealously protective, huge-crested larger male. Walker says it's a common behavior, ensuring the gene pool perpetuates itself so it's not just one male doing all the reproducing.

"It's a scientifically accurate term called the 'sneaky male strategy,' which brings chuckles from the audience when we screen it," says Walker, adding that the audiences love it. "That sequence is proving to be one of the show's most popular, all while tackling a tricky scientific subject."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Prehistoric Planet': T-Rex as gentle lover in tender mating scene

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