A newly described dinosaur species gives scientists a peek into its larger, more popular cousin, the Tyrannosaurus rex. Thanks to an incredible facial reconstruction, we are now able to see the closest possible look yet at the face of the cretaceous period's massive predator.
Tyrannosaurinae is a diverse group of therapods that ruled the late Cretaceous period at the end of the Mesozoic era. The most popular, perhaps, among this species is the massive Tyrannosaurus rex. Now, thanks to a well preserved, 75-million-year-old fossil, scientists are able to name a new species of tyrannosaurid, but they have also given the tyrannosaur lineage a new face.
The Daspletosaurus horneri, named to honor Jack Horner, a prominent palaeontologist, is literally translated to "frightful lizard" and for good reason. Comparing the fossilized skull to those of other dinosaurs, birds, and mammals, the dinosaur that's said to have roamed northern Montana and southern Alberta is described to have a face that is covered in flat scales that are extremely sensitive to touch. What's more, evidence suggests that the D. horneri's face may have been covered by armor-like skin with a set of horns just like its other tyrannosaur cousins.
The exceptionally reconstructed face of the D. horneri gives a peek into what exactly the Tyrannosaurus rex and their other tyrannosaur cousins looked like.
If those features sound familiar, that's because they are also reminiscent of living dinosaur relatives: the crocodilians. Apart from the physical appearance, scientists found that the D. horneri's skull features run almost identical to crocodilian skulls, which could point to similar, superb hunting and predatory behaviors.
Just like the modern crocodiles, the D. horneri and its tyrannosaur relatives may have used their extremely sensitive snouts for hunting and finding the perfect egg laying spots with the perfect temperatures.
A New Species Or A Transitional Species?
Perhaps one of the reasons why the D. Horneri has only been named now despite the fossils being discovered quite some time ago is because of its existence's close proximity to yet another tyrannosaur species, the D. torosus. Initially, the team that published the study in Scientific Reports were tasked to find out whether the D. horneri was simply a transitional species between the D. torosus and the Tyrannosaurus rex.
Though the D. torosus and D. horneri lived but a 100,000 years apart, a fairly small amount of time between two species, the scientists finalized that the D. horneri and the D. torosus are sister species, while the Tyrannosaurus rex is a in a different group altogether, separated from the Daspletosaurus by two other sister species, the Zhuchengtyrannus magnus and T. bataar.
"It's taken 25 years, but we've made it," says Thomas D. Carr, team leader of the reconstruction and coauthor of the study.