A brand new species of dinosaur was recently discovered, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Scientists have found a small, horse-sized relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex that fills a gap in ancient dinosaur evolution and explains how the T. rex came to be a top predator.
According to NBC, the new species was named Timurlengia euotica, and is believed to be an ancestor of what is arguably the most famous dinosaur known today. And while some scientists have recently argued that the T. rex may actually have been a scavenger, despite its terrifying depiction as a cold-hearted hunter in the Jurassic Park films, the newly discovered species seems to confirm the original claim that tyrannosaurs were the largest and most deadly predators in their ecosystems.
It was revealed on Monday that the Timurlengia euotica lived roughly 90 million years ago and, while a different species, it’s visually similar to a scaled-down version of the T. rex. The bipedal predator probably weighed no more than 600 pounds, versus the staggering 7-9 tons of the Tyrannosaurus rex. However, where the Timurlengia lacked in size, it made up for in speed.
“It had long legs and was likely a fast runner,” said Hans Sues from the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “Timurlengia was a nimble pursuit hunter with slender, blade-like teeth suitable for slicing through meat. It probably preyed on the various large plant-eaters, especially early duck-billed dinosaurs, which shared its world.”
However, it wasn’t the speed alone that made the Timurlengia euotica a formidable predator, it was its impeccable sense of hearing. According to Discovery News, the name of the dinosaur is derived from a central Asian warlord named Timur, as well as a word that means “well eared.”
Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences explained that the previously undiscovered dinosaur had an especially deep spiral cavity within its inner ear that allowed it to hear incredibly low frequency sounds that most other dinosaurs wouldn’t even perceive.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about this new dino discovery is the new explanation that the Timurlengia euotica provides to how the Tyrannosaurus rex came to be such a massive, unstoppable predator. The huge contrast in size between the Timurlengia and the beloved T. rex has led researchers to believe that the amazing speed and hearing of the newly discovered dinosaur allowed it to shoot to the top of the food chain. This sudden control over the ecosystem allowed tyrannosaurs to grow much larger in a very short period of time, in terms of the evolutionary timeline.
It seems the ancestors of the T. rex were so good at hunting that they set the genetic course for rapid growth within the last 20 million years of the Cretaceous period.
“Only after these ancestral tyrannosaurs evolved their clever brains and sharp senses did they grow into the colossal sizes of T. rex. Tyrannosaurs had to get smart before they got big,” Brusatte said.
But it’s also likely that a mass extinction event killed off many other predators competing with tyrannosaurs, leaving a large void of opportunity for the cunning hunters to fill.
“… there was a mass extinction event about 94 million years ago, seemingly caused by extensive volcanism leading to global warming,” Brusatte added, “[allowing tyrannosaurs to] opportunistically take over the apex predator role.”
The new dino discovery has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was co-authored by Alexander Averianov and Hans-Dieter Sues, who also found the Timurlengia euotica in the deserts of Uzbekistan, in Central Asia.
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]