Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fossils of Chinese dinosaur related to T Rex found

Scientists have discovered what they say are the remains of a long-lost Chinese cousin of Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the largest carnivores of all times which roamed the Earth some 65 million years ago.

The remains of this huge predator were found in a fossil quarry, which together with nearby sites in eastern China hold one of the largest concentrations of dinosaur bones in the world.

"We named the new species Zhuchengtyrannus Magnus, which means the 'Great Tyrant from Zhucheng,' because the bones were found in the city of Zhucheng, in eastern China's Shandong province," researcher David Hone, a paleontologist at the University College Dublin in Ireland, told LiveScience.

According to the researchers, Zhuchengtyrannus was a tyrannosaurine, a member of a group of huge theropods, or "beast-footed" dinosaurs, that included Tyrannosaurus Rex (T Rex) and its closest relatives, They were known for their small arms, two-fingered hands, and large, powerful jaws that could have delivered powerful, bone-crushing bites.

"It's the first China-only tyrannosaurine, and it's one of the biggest ever - there are only five carnivorous theropods bigger by my count," Hone said.

The researchers believe that the tyrannosaurines were likely both predators and scavengers, and lived in North America and eastern Asia during the late Cretaceous period, which lasted from about 99 million to 65 million years ago.

"Zhuchengtyrannus can be distinguished from other tyrannosaurines by a combination of unique features in the skull not seen in any other theropod," said Hone.

The Zhuchengtyrannus, the researchers estimated, was 36 feet long, about 13 feet tall and weighed close to 6,000 kg - the weight of a school bus.

"It's a smidge under T Rex-sized," Hone said. "With only some skull and jaw bones to work with, it is difficult to precisely gauge the overall size of this animal.

"But the bones we have are just a few centimeters smaller than the equivalent ones in the largest T Rex specimen. So there is no doubt that Zhuchengtyrannus was a huge tyrannosaurine."

Most of the other specimens recovered from the quarry where Zhuchengtyrannus was found, belong to a gigantic species of duck-billed dinosaur known as Shantungosaurus Giganteus, which might have been its prey, as well as some unidentified ankylosaurs.

The area was likely once a large floodplain where many dinosaur bodies were washed together during floods and then fossilised, Hone explained.

The bones of Zhuchengtyrannus were found in 2009.

"Ironically, they were found by a construction crew digging the foundations for a museum to put the other fossils in," Hone said.

The scientists detailed their findings online in the journal 'Cretaceous Research'.


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