Scientists discovered a new relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex from 92 million years ago, before the T. rex evolved to become the terrifying predator of Jurassic Park.
This new tyrannosauroid species — newly named Suskityrannus hazelae — isn't quite as imposing as their fearsome relative, but they allow scientists a look into of what came before the infamous T. rex.
"Suskityrannus gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet," Sterling Nesbitt, lead researcher and assistant professor at Virginia Tech, said in a news release from the university.
Meet The Pint-Size T. Rex Ancestor
In a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, Nesbitt and his fellow researchers reveal details on the Suskityrannus fossils dated to 92 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period.
Suskityrannus stood at only about 3 feet tall and 9 feet long, weighing in at about 45 to 90 pounds. The fossil exhibited much slimmer skull and feet than the T. rex, while partial hand claws that were unearthed were also miniature in size.
The creature walked the Earth just before the arrival of some of the most iconic dinosaur species in the late Cretaceous, such as the T. rex, Triceratops, and the Edmontosaurus.
Researchers say that the Suskityrannus fills a gap in the dinosaur fossil record, with very few tyrannosauroids known to exist between the early Cretaceous and the late Cretaceous. This species connects older, smaller tyrannosauroids with the bigger, more famous ones that came later.
It took more than a decade before the scientists realized that they had tyrannosauroid skeletons in their care. The two juvenile fossils from Zuni, New Mexico were discovered back in 1997 and 1998 with Nesbitt himself discovering the second, more complete fossil as a teenager.
Stunted Dino Is Still A Force To Be Reckoned With
The Suskityrannus may not have had the size of the later tyrannosauroids, but this bipedal animal is believed to be a ferocious hunter with impressive speed and agility.
Armita Manafzadeh, a PhD candidate from Brown University who is not affiliated with the study, is particularly interested in the Suskityrannus' arctometatarsalian foot where the three long bones of the foot's sole are pinched together.
"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," Manafzadeh told Gizmodo in an email.
Other notable features of the Suskityrannus include long feet, a strong jaw, and sharp, serrated teeth, which are all features associated with a speedy carnivore.