Health/Science
4:00 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

Dallas Paleontologists Discover New Dinosaur- A Pygmy Tyrannosaur

Paleontologists at Dallas’ Perot Musuem have discovered another new dinosaur species.

They found this pint-sized cousin to the Tyrannosaurus rex at the same site on Alaska’s North Slope where they unearthed another new dinosaur several years ago.  

Story on KERA radio.

This discovery dates back to 2006 when Dallas paleontologist Tony Fiorillo and his team were excavating a new horned dinosaur found above the Arctic Circle.

Paleontologists Tony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science display three pieces of dinosaur bone that helped identify the new species.
Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News

As they cleared away the sediment at the top of the pit Fiorillo saw some other interesting bones and said- maybe we ought to keep those too, just in case.

“In my mind I thought wouldn’t that be cool if that turned out to be a skull fragment. So we put it aside and tried to remember to put in the helicopter when it was time to leave,” Fiorillo recalls.

As Fiorillo’s horned dinosaur took center stage at the opening of the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, these other bones –along with six tons of Arctic rock- stayed in storage.

Then, Fiorillo and paleontologist Ron Tykoski took a closer look. 

The New Dino Takes Shape

In a dusty lab Tykoski and volunteers chiseled away at the rock and extracted three prominent bones- a chunk of a lower jaw, part of a skull and a fragment from the snout.

“These (three pieces) preserve enough critical characteristics to let us know this isn’t one of previously known species of tyrannosaurus.  It’s something totally new. And it’s a grown up,” said Tykoski.

This grown up is about half the size of a 40-foot, meat-eating T-Rex which Fiorillo calls “the all-star center fielder” of the dinosaur world.

“The Tyrannasaurus Rex is the super-star in the dinosaur world.  So the fact that we have a very close cousin to Tyrannosaurus rex is very exciting.  The fact that it’s very close but half the size as Tyrannosaurus rex, that’s really cool and that seems to be something unique to the Arctic,” he said.

Size and Survival

Fiorillo and Tykoski believe this predator was smaller because it adapted to the moderately cold climate 70 million years ago where food may have been scarce.  

They think it may have survived in part by eating the earlier horned dinosaur they found in the same location which is known as the Perot dinosaur.

“Some of the bones we found had tooth marks on them so we knew something was eating the Perot dinosaur, but we didn’t know what until we got to these bones we’re talking about right now,” Fiorillo said.

The scientists have named this new find Nanuqsaurus hoglundi.  Nanuq means “polar bear lizard” in the language of the territory’s Inupiat people. Hoglundi is for engineer and philanthropist Forrest Hoglund who raised millions of dollars to build the Perot Museum.

Fiorillo and Tykoski say they continue to examine the tons of Arctic rock still in storage and they’ve barely made a dent in the excavation site where they unearthed the specimens.

So could there be other new dinosaur species buried in the material?  

“There a lot more out there,” Fiorillo said hopefully.