Scientists have unearthed the remains of what is believed to be a new species of a miniature Theropod dinosaur. The 70 million year old fossilized remains of the Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, or the “polar bear lizard” as scientists are calling it, was found on a bluff above the Colville River in northern Alaska. Nanuq stands for “Polar Bear” in the Alaskan Inupiat language, and the second part of the creature’s name honors philanthropist Forrest Hoglund who funded the Texas Museum.
The species was as tall as a modern man making it a lot smaller than its larger cousin, the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex. In terms of sheer size, it was as large as another predator known to have lived in the area at around the same time – the Troodon. It likely had a strong sense of smell and had excellent night vision – in a land that remained in darkness for half the year.
According to paleontologist Anthony Fiorillo, who played a key role in discovering the Nanuqsaurus, the remains of the carnivore was found along with that of a horned plant-eating dinosaur. It is likely that the latter was killed by the Nanuqsaurus, based on the tooth-size gashes Fiorillo noticed in the plant eating dinosaur’s bones.
Initially, paleontologists had only managed to unearth four bone pieces from the skull. But those were good enough for them to be able to deduce that they belonged to an adult animal, and not a juvenile as many had thought, looking at its size. The growth pattern of the skull showed all the characteristics of an adult animal, according to Fiorillo. Another lucky strike was the fact that the sediments that filled inside the skull helped them get an imprint of the brain, helping them to figure out its shape and come to the conclusion that it likely had a powerful sense of smell.
The discovery of the Nanuqsaurus near the Polar Regions debunks a popular notion amongst scientists which said that these creatures were not designed to survive such weather conditions. In fact, when the first of dinosaur bones were found in Alaska 30 years ago, they were initially thought to have come from whales. 70 million years ago however, Alaska was a much warmer place than it is today, which probably explains this discovery. Even then, the area where the Nanuqsaurus lived was still way too cold for the Tyrannosaurus Rex whose remains have been typically found in much warmer regions.
Other scientists and members of the scientific community have described this latest discovery as “exciting”.
[Images from National Geographic. Illustration by Anthony R.Fiorillo and Ronald S. Tyoski]