Monday, 27 May, 2019

Three-foot-tall cousin of T-rex fills some big evolutionary boots

Dinosaur fossils: Scientists identify a tiny, duck-billed cousin to the T. rex Newfound 'Mini T. Rex' Was a Tiny Terror at Just 3 Feet Tall
Elijah Vega | 09 May, 2019, 14:57

This new tyrannosauroid species - newly named Suskityrannus hazelae - isn't quite as imposing as their fearsome relative, but they allow scientists a look into of what came before the infamous T. rex. It dates back 92 million years, about 20 million years before the T. rex stomped the Earth. The authors of the new study, led by Virginia Tech paleontologist Sterling Nesbitt, categorized Suskityrannus as a non-tyrannosaurid tyrannosauroid.

The newly named tyrannosauroid dinosaur, Suskityrannus hazelae, stood around 3 feet tall at the hip and was about 9 feet long, the university said.

The specimen Nesbitt found is so complete, it's helping researchers learn about this wee tyrannosaur, which predates T. rex by about 25 million years.

Suskityrannus hazelae "is a key link between the enormous bone-crunching dinosaurs like T. rex and the smaller species they evolved from", said Dr Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh.

"It also belongs to a dinosaurian fauna that just proceeds the iconic dinosaurian faunas in the latest Cretaceous that include some of the most famous dinosaurs, such as the Triceratops, predators like Tyrannosaurus rex, and duckbill dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus".

Paleontologists announced Monday in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that the ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) evolved from dinosaurs no larger than a small child.

Armita Manafzadeh, a PhD candidate from Brown University who is not affiliated with the study, is particularly interested in the Suskityrannus' arctometatarsalian foot where the three long bones of the foot's sole are pinched together. It was bigger than earlier tyrannosauroids and had big feet needed for speed - something the T. rex lost.

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Prior to Nesbitt's discovery, Robert Denton, now a senior geologist with Terracon Consultants, discovered a partial skull of the new dinosaur in 1997.

They represent a point in the evolution from the smallest tyrannosaurs to the largest ones that peaked just before dinosaurs went extinct.

Monday's report said that Suskityrannus hazelae provides an intermediate link between older, smaller tyrannosaurs and the big, last-surviving members of the species.

Dr Nesbitt's high school discovery the following year produced a more intact fossil.

"Essentially, we didn't know we had a cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex for many years", says Nesbitt. "Clearly the most complete individual skeleton we had found in the entire basin and we had not even started to collect it".

As such, Suskityrannus fills an important evolutionary gap in the tyrannosauroid family tree. "This foot morphology has only been found in a few groups of Cretaceous theropod dinosaurs, and several biomechanical hypotheses have been put forward linking it to improved running ability".

And from the tip of its tail to its snout, the dinosaur only measured about nine feet long (2.73m).

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