Excavations in Asia’s Gobi desert have revealed the fossils of a new species of eight-horned, long-snouted carnivorous dinosaur, a cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex, which rather being trough and tough like his contemporaries, was more like a ‘ballerina’.
According to a report in the National Geographic Traveler, a well-preserved skull and a near-complete skeleton from the new species of eight-horned, long-snouted carnivore-dubbed Alioramus altai-were unearthed in 2001 in Mongolia.
The predator lived in the hot, lush floodplains of the late Cretaceous, near the end of the age of dinosaurs, roughly 65 million years ago. The creature had two short horns above each eye and two jutting downward from its cheeks-all four are also seen in T. rex. Strangely, the beast also had up to two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) horns sticking out of each cheek, “which have never been seen in any carnivorous dinosaur before,” Brusatte said. Too short for combat, these horns likely served as sexual ornaments to attract females. Smaller than T. rex, the newfound species also possessed an unusually airy skeleton; lacked a skull built for the strong jaws seen in its larger cousins; and had thinner, steak knife-like teeth. “This spectacular fossil tells us that there is a lot more anatomical and ecological variety in tyrannosaurs than we previously thought,” said Stephen Brusatte, a graduate student affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History. “Not all tyrannosaurs were megapredators adapted for stalking and dismembering large prey. Some tyrannosaurs were small and slender. Compared to Tyrannosaurus, this new animal is like a ballerina,” he added.
Analysis of the braincase, though, ties the new species closely to tyrannosaurs. Gregory Erickson, of Florida State University, a co-author, analyzed the microstructure of the bone to determine that this animal died as a nine year old, essentially a teenager at 85 percent of its adult size.
“This fossil reveals an entirely new body type among tyrannosaurs, a group we thought we understood pretty well,” said Mark Norell, Chair of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. “A. altai probably fed differently from its larger cousin, going for smaller prey because it could not crunch through bone like its larger relatives,” said Brusatte.