A great discovery came in a small package for paleontologists who’ve unearthed a new species of tiny tyrannosaur in northern Alaska.
Dubbed Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, the polar pygmy measured about 20 feet (6 meters) long, about half the size of its close relative Tyrannosaurus rex. The first part of the dinosaur‘s name, Nanuq, means “polar bear” in the Alaska Inupiat language, a nod to the tyrannosaur’s role as top predator in its late Cretaceous environment. Hoglundi honors philanthropist Forrest Hoglund, according to a new study, which appeared March 12 in the journal PLOS ONE.
Paleontologists nearly overlooked N. hoglundi as they searched for a type of horned dinosaur in the Prince Creek formation in 2006. While removing 70-million-year-old rocks from a hole, paleontologist Tony Fiorillo noticed unusual bones that looked like skull fragments. At the time, though, “we had bigger fish to fry, and we put it aside,” he said, but “some things stick in your mind.” Later at his lab, Fiorillo realized that indeed he’d found pieces of the top of the skull and jaw of a new tyrannosaur. (Also see “Tiny T. Rex Foundâ€”150-Pound Species Came First.”)
What’s more, a particularly shaped ridge on its head, among other similarities, indicated the carnivore was a close cousin of T. rexâ€”“not some second cousin twice removed kind of deal,” quipped Fiorillo, of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.
Though T. rex is undoubtedly the “all-star center fielder for the New York Yankees in the dinosaur world,” Fiorillo said, there are actually many species of tyrannosaur that lived in Asia and North America during the Cretaceous.
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