Tyrannosaurus Rex Cousin: Mini T-Rex Skeleton Found in Arctic Region

Friday, 14 Mar 2014 12:24 PM

By Michael Mullins

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A smaller cousin to the Tyrannosaurus Rex has been discovered by paleontologists along an Alaskan river, the first of its kind to be found thriving in extreme polar temperatures.

The newly discovered dinosaur, named Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, is a mini version of its more well-known relative the Tyrannosaurus Rex, measuring just 7 meters from nose to tail whereas the T-Rex was on average 12 meters long, Nature.com reported.

The tyrannosaur cousin fossils, which were skull and jaw fragments, were found in 2006 contained within a rock recovered from the Kikak-Tegoseak Quarry near Alaska's Prudhoe Bay inside the Arctic Circle. The find was made by paleontologists Anthony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, and published in the journal Plus One on Wednesday.

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The paleontologists reportedly weren't initially sure that they had discovered a new type of tyrannosaur.

"Only in the last year or so, after some other tyrannosaur papers came out, we were able to plug these fragments into those analyses — and a little light bulb went on over our heads," Tykoski told Nature.com. "We said, holy smokes, this thing really is different."

As to why the tyrannosaur cousin was a miniature version of its significantly larger cousin to the south, the paleontologists believed the predator's environment played a significant role.

"There was something about that environment that selected for tyrannosaurs developing a smaller body size," Fiorillo told Nature.com, adding that the predator's small size could have been due to its hunting being limited to just six months out of the year when the landscape was visible. For six months the arctic goes dark due to the earth's axis being tilted.

In contrast, most of the fossils belonging to the once mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex are found further south, particularly across the western United States.

The tyrannosaur cousin is about the same size as the Troodon, another common meat-eating dinosaur found in Alaska, Fiorillo told the Agence France-Presse.

The name of the tyrannosaur cousin – Nanuqsaurus hoglundi – is a reference to the Inuit tribe's name for polar bear, which is Nanook, melded with the name of natural gas tycoon Forrest Hoglund, who in part financed the operation that led to the discovery of the first of its kind fossil, the AFP noted.

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