T. rex's 'pygmy' cousin discovered in Alaska
A 70 million year old fossil discovered in the Late Cretaceous sediments of Alaska reveals a new small tyrannosaur.
Tyrannosaurs, the lineage of carnivorous theropod ("beast feet") dinosaurs that include T. rex, have captivated our attention, but the majority of our knowledge about this group comes from fossils from low- to mid-latitudes of North America and Asia.
In this study, scientists analyzed the partial skull roof, maxilla, and jaw, recovered from Prince Creek Formation in Northern Alaska, of a dinosaur originally believed to belong to a different species, and then compared the fossils to known tyrannosaurine species.
According to the results of the authors' analysis, the cranial bones represent Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, a new tyrannosaurine species closely related to two other tyrannosaurides, Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus.
This new dinosaur is estimated to be relatively small, with an adult skull length estimated at 25 inches, compared to 60 inches for T. rex. The new species likely inhabited a seasonally extreme, high-latitude continental environment on the northernmost edge of Cretaceous North America.
The authors suggest that the smaller body size of N. hoglundi compared to most tyrannosaurids from lower latitudes may reflect an adaptation to variability in resources in the arctic seasons.
Further diversification may stem from the dinosaurs' partial isolation in the north by land barriers, such as the east-west running Brooks Range.
The paper has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
(Posted on 13-03-2014)