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Illustration of Thanatotheristes by Julius Csotonyi

University of Calgary student identifies new dinosaur species

By Mitali Pradhan, February 27 2020 —

Researchers at the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum have recently identified a new species of meat-eating dinosaur. The 79-million-year-old fossil was discovered in 2010 by John and Sandra de Groot approximately 200 kilometres south of Calgary. Jared Voris, lead author and Ph.D student at the University of Calgary, ran analysis on the fossil from the Royal Tyrrell Museum last spring. Voris noticed several distinguishing features in the skull such as noticeable ridges which helped identify this as a new species called the Thanatotheristes. 

“One of the best things about this is that my student first noticed it,” stated Darla Zelenitsky, the principal dinosaur researcher and assistant professor in the U of C’s Faculty of Science’s Department of Geoscience, who co-authored the study. “As a professor you always want your students to succeed.”

This is the first new tyrannosaur species identified in Canada in the past 50 years and this has a significant impact on the understanding of the Tyrannosaur evolution and the ecosystem of the time period. Dr. Zelenitsky stressed that this fossil is from an older time-period than previously identified tyrannosaurs. 

Photo of Darla Zelenitsky and Jared Voris. // Photo courtesy of the Royal Tyrell Museum.

“There are only three species known in this time period,” stated Zelenitsky. This newly identified species is one of these three and the only apex from this time period.

This provides strong evidence for the presence of tyrannosaurs in Alberta prior to 77 million years ago. It is estimated that this predatory species was eight meters long. This physical evidence and the time period allows for the analysis of adaptations specific to the geographical location and behavioural characteristics such as hunting strategies. Characteristics of this dinosaur which make it better suited for the geographical location are useful to analyze the diversity among tyrannosaurs. 

The research team published the article, “A new tyrannosaurine (Theropoda: Tyrannosauridae) from the Campanian Foremost Formation of Alberta, Canada, provides insight into the evolution and biogeography of tyrannosaurids,” in Cretaceous Research. The study suggests that tyrannosaurs have diverse body types with distinguishing features such as body sizes depending on the environment. 

“Moving forward, Jared is looking at different tyrannosaurs and their geography and time period,” stated Zelenitsky. 

Future work would aim to compare the newly identified species to related species to better understand the evolution and significant differences. This would test the hypothesis of tyrannosaur species having distinguishing features based on geographical location and provide new insight regarding the evolution of the tyrannosaur and the ecosystem of the time period. 

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