INTO THE TARBO-VERSE: the many faces of the alarming lizard

Are you a fan of the famous Tarbosaurus? Good for you, ’cause we will talk about many topics surrounding this dinosaur and all the times that it appeared in various videogames, documentaries, and of course also collectible models.

Tex vs. The Tarbosaurs

In his adventures, Tex Willer and his companions have often dealt with monsters and other bizarre creatures. Some time ago we discussed when the Tex comic turned into another tribute to “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which Tex and two of his friends ventured underground into an environment that turned out to have forests, rivers, and various types of dinosaurs and other monstrous animals. But as I mentioned at the end of the article, “The lands of the Abyss” is not the only time Tex had to face prehistoric monsters.

In 1981, two issues of Tex came out, n. 253, “Claws in the Darkness” and n. 254 “The Cliff of Horror”. These issues tell how Tex and his son Kit were returning to the United States after a previous adventure in Panama. While returning home aboard a boat called the Mariposa, some British crew members led by Steven Brooke turn around and force the ship’s captain to sail to a Mexican island called Providencia. Despite a storm that crashes the ship on some rocks near the beach, the group of men manages to reach the island. The reason for this sudden mutiny is soon explained: Steven Brooke wants to conquer the island to turn it into an independent state and be able to govern it. Among the passengers on the ship there is also a scientist, who a few years earlier had made an exceptional discovery, and it will be this discovery that will spread panic and terror on the island.

The issue n. 253 “Artigli nelle Tenebre” (Claws in the Shadows)
The issue n. 254 “La scogliera dell’orrore” (The cliff of Horror)

This cargo was made up of three Tarbosaurus specimens, which have been found by the scientist during an expedition to a remote area of South America (although Tarbosaurus lived in Asia). The specimens had been hibernated with a chemical solution to be transported on the ship, but during the shipwreck, the seawater had altered the hibernating compound, and so, two of the three specimens woke up from their slumber and started wandering around the island, also claiming some  victims. Fortunately, With the help of other characters, Tex manages to defeat the two Tarbosaurus, shooting them to death.

The real Tarbosaurus

But how different was the real Tarbosaurus compared to those in Tex? Since the comic dates back to 1981, the current iconography of this dinosaur has changed a lot since the 1980s. The Tarbosaurus of the comic are about 3 meters high with a length of about 5 meters, when in reality they were between 10 and 11 meters long with a height of almost 4 meters (the scientist explains that these Tarbosaurs, who survived the extinction became adapted to the new conditions of the earth by becoming smaller than their colossal ancestors).

Illustration by PaleoNeolitic (Therizinology on Instagram)
Illustration by Gabriel Ugueto

Also, the dinosaurs in the comic have the typical now obsolete tripod pose in which they drag their tail on the ground, and in one particular panel, the way the Tarbosaurus was drawn is a clear homage to an illustration by the famous czech painter Zdenek Burian dating back to 1970.

Illustration by Zdenek Burian made in 1970

Another well known Tarbosaurus illustration was the one made by russian painter Konstantin Konstantinovich made around 1955. Since the pose of this Tarbosaurus looks similar to the one made by Burian, He probably took some inspiration from the russian painter.

Illustration by Konstantin Konstantinovich

Tarbosaurus bataar, whose name means alarming lizard was described in 1954, and is one of the largest theropods ever, as well as the second largest known tyrannosaurid, after obviously the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex. Its fossils have been found in China and Mongolia, and thanks to the abundance of fossils found, we have a good idea of ​​how it looked like in life and how these animals grew. In the past, some dinosaur skeletons such as Raptorex and Shanshanosaurus turned out to be juvenile Tarbosaurus, an Asian-made version of the famous Nanotyrannus case.

Holotype skull of Tarbosaurus PIN 551-1
Source: Wikipedia
Bones of a juvenile Tarbosaurus specimen
Source: Wikipedia
Size chart of various Tarbosaurus specimens
Source: Wikipedia
Skeletal of two adult specimens
Source: Franoys on DeviantArt

The main difference between Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, in addition to the size is the shape of the skull: the one of T. rex was thicker and more robust, with a shorter but wider snout, while the skull of Tarbosaurus was narrower and elongated, with a longer and slender snout. It also had shorter arms than those of T. rex and it was more gracile. In the past it was even thought that Tarbosaurus was an Asian species of Tyrannosaurus, and that its scientific name should’ve been Tyranosaurus bataar.

Source: BaryMiner on Reddit
Source: Wikipedia

In 1991, a rather complete skeleton with traces of fossilized skin was found by an Italian-French-Mongolian expedition in the Gobi desert. The skeleton was composed of a good part of the tail, hips and hind limbs, and from the few photos taken at the site, it seems that Tarbosaurus skin was covered by small polygonal scales on the tail and sides. Unfortunately, this specimen was not collected, and was lost forever, perhaps because of the poachers who dug it illegally, or due to the erosion that eventually, with the passage of time, made the skeleton disappear.

Source: Incertae Sedis Blog

Speaking of illegal excavations, there is a rather well-known episode in the world of paleontology that has to do with Tarbosaurus. In 2007, the actor Nicholas Cage bought a Tarbosaurus skull for $ 276,000 at a Manhattan auction. Unfortunately, the fossil had been excavated and illegally taken away from Mongolia in order to be sold illegally. After a civil complaint with the intent to return the skull to Mongolia, the actor agreed to return the fossil, which was then brought back to his native country.

Living at the end of the Cretaceous during the Maastrichtian, between 72 and 66 million years ago, Tarbosaurus was the dominant predator of its environment, and given that its closest relative was T. rex, and it is likely that the latter evolved precisely from a similar form and migrated from Asia to the western part of North America, becoming the dominant predator and outcompeting the native tyrannosaurids of that continent, made by more slender forms such as Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus and others more robust but still smaller like Daspletosaurus. However, it is likely that Tarbosaurus was still present when the asteroid that crashed into earth 66 million years ago led to the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs and many other life forms.

Illustration by Sergey Krasovskyi
Illustration by John Conway

Tarbosaurus in the pop culture

Although Tarbosaurus is the closest relative of the most famous dinosaur ever, this has not prevented him from living in the shadow of the latter, in fact, since its discovery, this theropod has been quite famous, becoming the protagonist of some famous historical illustrations, as well as being present in many prehistoric animals themed books. It has also appeared in various documentaries, video games and some films, in addition to having been done as a model several times over the years.

In the 2000s various prehistoric animal-themed documentaries came out, probably due to the great success of Walking with Dinosaurs released in 1999. That documentary was made by the BBC, and in the following years, many other prehistoric themed BBC products also came out. Among these productions there was “Chased by Giants”, a WWD spin-off consisting of two episodes. In the episode “The Giant Claw”, released in 2002, the zoologist and time traveler Nigel Marven travels to Mongolia during the Upper Cretaceous in search of Therizinosaurus, but of course he will also come face to face with Tarbosaurus a couple of times.

Tarbosaurus chases our favorite time traveler
Tarbosaurus confronting Therizinosaurus

In the following years, Tarbosaurus also appeared in the documentary “The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs”, another BBC production released in 2005.

Tarbosaurus attacking Pinacosaurus, even tho both english and italian version called it ankylosaur. Ankylosaurus lived in North America while Pinacosaurus lived in Asia.

Later, Tarbosaurus also appeared in 2007’s Dinosaurs Alive and 2019’s Amazing Dinoworld, before appearing in its best form in the recent documentary series called Prehistoric Planet, in which it appears in the second episode dedicated to the deserts.

Tarbosaurus from Dinosaurs Alive
Tarbosaurus from Amazing DinoWorld
Tarbosaurus from Prehistoric Planet in all its glory

In addition to documentaries, Tarbosaurus was also the unexpected protagonist of three films. The first one was Tarbosaurus: The Mightiest Ever, released in 2008.

Poster of Tarbosaurus: The Mightiest Ever

The second one, released in 2012 was Speckles the Tarbosaurus. This is a sequel of the 2008 movie, infact Patch is the father of the protagonist. In this film, a small Tarbosaurus named Speckles finds himself alone after a Tyrannosaurus (which for some reason was on vacation in Asia) has killed his entire family. The plot centers on the growth of the protagonist who will eventually find himself face to face with his nemesis again, and settle it once and for all.

Poster of Speckles the Tarbosaurus
A shot of Speckles from the movie

The third and last movie, released in 2017 was Speckles the Tarbosaurus 2: the new Paradise, also known as Dino King 3D: Journey to the Mountain. In this film, Junior, Speckles’ son gets kidnapped, and both protagonists will try to find each other with the help of new characters.

Poster of Speckles the Tarbosaurus 2

Scientific accuracy was not the priority in the production of these films, and it is also curious how while the first film is essentially silent, in the second one, the protagonist is the only one who speaks and in the third movie almost every character can do it..

Tarbosaurus is also the main antagonist in the new interactive episode of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, released by Netflix on November 15th.

Tarbosaurus is also featured in Jurassic World: The Game as a legendary dinosaur and in Jurassic World Alive as a common dinosaurs (man what a downgrade). It is also featured in the video game ARK: Survival Evolved.

Tarbosaurus card from Jurassic World: The Game
Tarbosaurus card from Jurassic World: Alive
Tarbosaurus from ARK: Survival Evolved

Since its discovery, Tarbosaurus has always been an interesting and fascinating dinosaur, despite its status as “relative of the most famous dinosaur ever”, and over the years, many companies have decided to make it a collectible model.

Among the first known Tarbosaurus models there were those produced by Kaiyodo in the early 2000s. One of the two models was part of the UHA Collect Club, while the other was part of the Dinotales line, more precisely the 4 series.

The Kaiyodo Tarbosaurus of the UHA Collect Club
Kaiyodo Tarbosaurus of the Dinotales series 4

In 2009 the Collecta decided to produce its own Tarbosaurus too.

In 2012 it was the turn of the Favorite company to produce their Tarbosaurus, and in 2020 they made a second model made of rubbery plastic was released.

Tarbosaurus from Favorite Co.
Tarbosaurus Favorite Co. Ltd. “Soft Model 2020”

In 2020, Mattel also decided to produce their Tarbosaurus for the Primal Attack line: Massive Biters.

One of the best models of Tarbosaurus is that of the PNSO, released in 2021, of which you can find a detailed review here on our website

For 2023, the series of Beasts of the Mesozoic models dedicated to Tyrannosaurs will arrive, and obviously among the various models, there is also that of a Tarbosaurus, and also here on the website, you can find a detailed photo gallery of the model

And lastly, even Schleich planned to release their Tarbosaurus figure in early 2023.

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