Newly Discovered Cousin Of T. Rex Was A Pint-Sized Killer

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He said the new species's name, Suskityrannus hazelae, comes from "suski", the Zuni word for coyote, and from Hazel Wolfe.

An global team of scientists, including those from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and the University of Edinburgh, identified the new species by studying two fossils discovered in the late 1990s.

Lead author Sterling Nesbitt, now a vertebrate paleontologist at Virginia Tech, began working on the find when he was 16 years old.

Still, standing around 3 ft (0.9 m) tall at the hip and roughly 9 ft (2.8 m) from nose to tail, you'd still probably want to keep your distance.

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

Reconstruction of the tyrannosauroid Suskityrannus hazelae from the Late Cretaceous (~92 million years ago) in current day New Mexico. What makes this new dinosaur special, however, is that it's more closely related to T. rex and other tyrannosaurids than to other early Cretaceous tyrannosauroids.

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

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They represent a point in the evolution from the smallest tyrannosaurs to the largest ones that peaked just before dinosaurs went extinct. Slim, leggy, horse-sized Tyrannosauroids like S. hazelae gave way to megapredators like T. rex.

The other dinosaur fossil was a partial skull dug out by geologist Robert Denton in 1997 in New Mexico. Intriguingly, another such fossil presented just earlier this year was also a miniature dinosaur, raising even more questions about how T-Rex managed to reach its dominating size.

"We did not know these fossils represented a tyrannosauroid for more than a decade after they were discovered", Nesbitt told Gizmodo in an email. He added the team first thought they had the remains of a dromaeosaur, such as Velociraptor.

Though Suskityrannus hazelae may have been Nesbitt's first major discovery, it certainly hasn't been his last.

A decent portion of the skeleton was represented in the two specimens, but some parts of its skull, hands, and feet were missing. The finding is important, he said, because it shrinks the time gap between the small, intermediate-grade tyrannosaurs and the big ones.

"In an arctometatarsalian foot, the three long bones that make up the sole of the foot are pinched together, with the middle bone being particularly skinny".

Suskityrannus reveals more about the mid-Cretaceous period, when Earth was warmer and the sea level was higher and how things changed for dinosaurs afterward, Wolfe said. "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".

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