A fearsome lizard with a name meaning “reaper of death” is the first new tyrannosaur species to be identified in Canada in 50 years, say researchers with the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Tyrannosaurs were large meat-eating dinosaurs that walked on two legs and had short arms, two fingers and massive skulls with dagger-like teeth. Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous in this group.
Jared Voris was examining skull fragments stored in a drawer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., as part of his masters thesis when he noticed features not seen in other tyrannosaur specimens. The most obvious were prominent vertical ridges along the upper jaw line.
“We’d find one feature, and then we’d find another, and then it would just kind of cascade into finally understanding that this was something completely different than what we’d seen before,” said Voris, who is now working on his PhD in paleontology at the University of Calgary.
Voris, 25, said “it’s definitely a weird feeling” to make a big discovery so early in his career.
He figures the beast could have been about eight metres long with an 80-centimetre skull.
“It would have been quite an imposing animal,” he said. “It definitely would have caused some panic.”
The new species is named Thanatotheristes degrootorum, which combines the Greek word for “reaper of death” with the name of a southern Alberta couple, the DeGroots, who happened upon the fossil fragments along the shore of the Bow River west of Medicine Hat, Alta., in 2010.
Darla Zelenitsky, who is Voris’s PhD thesis supervisor, said Thanatotheristes predates T. rex by about 12 million years and is the oldest known tyrannosaur discovered in Canada.
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SOURCE: Edmonton Journal, The Canadian Press