Baby T rex goes on sale on eBay, sparking paleontologists' outcry

Sam Wolfson


You wouldn’t normally associate the world of dutiful natural history preservation with sporadic bursts of all-caps letters and exclamation points – or at least not until last month, when the fossil of an infant Tyrannosaurus rex, potentially the only in existence, went on sale on eBay for the “buy it now” price of $2.95m.

The listing reads: “Most Likely the Only BABY T-Rex in the World! It has a 15 FOOT long Body and a 21” SKULL with Serrated Teeth! This Rex was very a very dangerous meat eater. It’s a RARE opportunity indeed to ever see a baby REX…”

Related: Dinosaur fossil collectors ‘price museums out of the market’

The skeleton, estimated to be 68m years old, was first discovered in 2013, on private land in Montana. It became the property of the man who discovered it, Alan Detrich, a professional fossil hunter. In 2017, Detrich lent the fossil to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, where it was still on display when Detrich made the surprise decision to put it up for auction.

Analysis of the skeleton may help to settle a major debate in palaeontology over whether small Tyrannosaurs from North America are infants or should have the separate classification of Nanotyrannus. Such research may now be impossible with the fossil likely to end up in a private collection.

The Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology (SVP) has criticised both Detrich, who will be taking an important specimen outside the reach of scientific study, and the university, for helping to inflate the price of the fossil, acting as a shop window for professional buyers.

In an open letter published last week, SVP’s members said that it was regrettable that the fossil was exhibited before it could be studied. “That action, which brought the fossil to the attention of hundreds or thousands of visitors, potentially enhanced its commercial value,” they wrote. “Museums seldom have the budget for purchase of increasingly expensive privately collected specimens.”

The University of Kansas has subsequently said they were unaware of Detrich’s plans to put the skeleton up for auction. In a statement the museum’s director, Leonard Krishtalka, said the exhibit has now been removed and returned to Detrich, and they have asked for any association with the museum to be removed from the listing.

So far no one has expressed interest in paying the asking price, although there is the option to make an offer, and the item has more than 100 people “watching” it. Any museums hoping they might be able to shell out for a quick study and then send it back will be disappointed – Detrich has specified a no returns policy.