It has been 50 years since paleontologists last discovered a new species of tyrannosaur in Canada. Now say hello to Thanatotheristes degrootorum. It may be the new dinosaur in the block, but it goes back beyond any other known Canadian tyrannosaurus species.
"This is the oldest occurrence of a large tyrannosaurus in Canada, found in an older time window than where previous tyrannosaurs have been found," said Darla Zelenitsky, a paleontologist at the University of Calgary and co-author of a study published in the magazine Cretaceous Research in January.
The name of the dinosaur is a combination of the Greek god of death Thanatos and the Greek word "theristes", which is translated as reaper. Put the two together and we will get the awesome nickname "Reaper of Death".
The part of the name "degrootorum" is a tribute to John and Sandra De Groot of Alberta, Canada. John De Groot discovered the fossil fragments during a walk. "The jaw bone was an absolutely surprising finding. We knew it was special because fossilized teeth could be clearly seen," he said Monday in a statement from the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Researchers studied the skull and jaw bone. "The fossil has several physical characteristics, including ridges along the upper jaw, which clearly distinguishes it from a new species," said lead study author Jared Voris, a doctoral student at the university.
The team estimated the reaper's age at approximately 79.5 million years, which exceeds the next oldest known Canadian tyrannosaurus species in 2.5 million years. "This discovery is significant because it fills a gap in our understanding of the evolution of the tyrannosaurus," said Dinosaur Conservator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Francois Therrien.
The analysis suggests that the specimen may have been about 26 feet (8 meters) long. Compare that to Sue, a famous example of Tyrannosaurus rex, which is more than 40 feet (12 meters) in length. The Canadian dinosaur would still have been an intimidating sight.
Researchers hope to deepen how tyrannosaurs from various regions can differ from each other in regards to body type, size and physical characteristics. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the family tree of the tyrannosaurs.