Dinosaur fossils: Scientists identify a tiny, duck-billed cousin to the T. rex

Dinosaur fossils: Scientists identify a tiny, duck-billed cousin to the T. rex

Scientists discovered a new relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex from 92 million years ago, before the T. rex evolved to become the terrifying predator of Jurassic Park.

The newly named dinosaur, Suskityrannus hazelae, was dug out by high school student Sterling Nesbitt during a dig in New Mexico in 1998.

A new relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex - much smaller than the huge, ferocious dinosaur made famous in countless books and films, including, yes, "Jurassic Park" - has been discovered and named by a Virginia Tech paleontologist and an worldwide team of scientists.

The newly discovered cousin - which was three times longer than it was tall - weighed between 45 and 90 pounds, nearly nothing compared to the nine-ton king of the dinosaurs.

Although the researchers don't know what Suskityrannus ate, the carnivorous dinosaur probably hunted small animals.

"Suskityrannus hazelae gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet", said Dr.

The study's lead author, Sterling Nesbitt, a paleontologist at Virginia Tech in the USA, said that the fossils of the smaller T. rex cousin could provide one of the best examples yet as to how a smaller family of dinosaurs evolved into monstrous super predators.

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Nesbitt says he first discovered an incomplete skeleton of Suskityrannus hazelae in New Mexico in 1997, and another, more complete, sample in 1998.

"Suskityrannus has a much more slender skull and foot than its later and larger cousins, the Tyrannosaurus rex", Nesbitt told the university.

And indeed, the discovery connects older and smaller tyrannosauroids from North America and China with the enormous tyrannosaurids that emerged during the Late Cretaceous. Nesbitt said permission was granted from the Zuni Tribal Council to use the word "Suski". "Suskityrannus is the first really good record of the early tyrannosaurs in North America", he wrote in an email. This species connects older, smaller tyrannosauroids with the bigger, more famous ones that came later. "Following Sterling out to see his dinosaur, I was amazed at how complete a skeleton was lying exposed at the site", Kirkland said.

For years, the scientists weren't sure with what they were dealing with, figuring the remains belonged to some kind of dromaeosaur, like a Velociraptor. "Clearly the most complete individual skeleton we had found in the entire basin and we had not even started to collect it". "I am now an assistant professor that gets to teach about Earth history".

Nesbitt said scientists didn't have anything to compare the small dinosaur to in the T-Rex family because smaller relatives were not discovered until around 2005 and 2006.

During that period, many dinosaurs evolved into supersized versions.

The Arizona Museum of Natural History will permanently house the Suskityrannus fossils. "If we did not find the two specimens of Suskityrannus we would have never known this animal existed".

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