A new species of dinosaur with a keen sense of smell has been identified and its special ability likely made it a fearsome predator when it walked the Earth about 75 million years ago.
The discovery of the species named Saurornitholestes sullivani was made while Steven Jasinski, from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, was conducting an investigation of a specimen that was initially believed to be that of a Saurornitholestes langstoni , an already known species of therapod dinosaur.
Analysis, however, suggests that part of the skull of the dinosaur represent a new species. Jasinski realized that the creature's olfactory bulb was bigger compared with that of the Saurornitholestes langstoni, which suggests that the fossil belonged to a different species that likely had a keen sense of smell when it lived.
"This feature means that Saurornitholestes sullivani had a relatively better sense of smell than other dromaeosaurid dinosaurs, including Velociraptor, Dromaeosaurus, and Bambiraptor," Jasinski said adding that this keen sense of smell has likely made the creature a formidable predator.
The new species, a close relative of the Velociraptor, which was depicted in the blockbuster dinosaur movie Jurassic Park, thrived during the Late Cretaceous period about 75 million years ago. Although they are distinct species, S. sullivani and S. langstoni appear to be closely related.
The creature was less than 3 feet tall at its hip. Its length also measures 6 feet. Previous analysis of related species suggest that S. sullivani was likely fast and agile. They also likely hunted in packs using their strong sense of smell when catching a prey.
The specimen was discovered in 1999 by Robert Sullivan in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area, which is located in the state of New Mexico. When it was first described, experts believed that it was a member of Saurornitholestes langstoni, which belonged to the Dromaeosauridae family that was found in what is now known as Alberta, Canada.
The T-rex, one of the most popular meat-eating dinosaurs, is formidable partly because of its size. Jasinski, who reported about the new species in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin, said that while the newly named animal was not large, it is a creature that one does not want to mess with.
S. sullivani is the only named dromaeosaur, also known as raptors, from the Late Cretaceous in North America south of Montana. During this period, North America was made up of two continents that were parted by an inland sea.