America's smallest dinosaur uncovered

Sep 23, 2008

An unusual breed of dinosaur that was the size of a chicken, ran on two legs and scoured the ancient forest floor for termites is the smallest dinosaur species found in North America, according to a University of Calgary researcher who analyzed bones found during the excavation of an ancient bone bed near Red Deer, Alberta.

"These are bizarre animals. They have long and slender legs, stumpy arms with huge claws and tweezer-like jaws. They look like an animal created by Dr. Seuss," said Nick Longrich, a paleontology research associate in the Department of Biological Sciences. "This appears to be the smallest dinosaur yet discovered in North America."

Called Albertonykus borealis, the slender bird-like creature is a new member of the family Alvarezsauridae and is one of only a few such fossils found outside of South America and Asia. In a paper published in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, Longrich and University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie describe the specimen and explain how it it likely specialized in consuming termites by using its small but powerful forelimbs to tear into logs.

"Proportionately, the forelimbs are shorter than in a Tyrannosaurus but they are powerfully-built, so they seem to have served a purpose," Longrich said. "They are built for digging but too short to burrow, so we think they may have been used to rip open log in search of insects."

Longrich studied 70 million-year-old bones that were collected on a dig led by Currie at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park in 2002 where the remains of more than 20 Albertosaurus sarcophagus individuals were found. Albertosaurs are a type of tyrannosaur. The bones were placed in storage at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and Longrich came across them while trying to compare Albertosaurus claws to another dinosaur species.

"This is the oldest and most complete dinosaur of its kind known from North America and it provides evidence that these dinosaurs migrated to Asia through North America," he said.

Longrich, who specializes in studying dinosaur-era ancestors of birds, completed his PhD at the University of Calgary under the supervision of zoology professor Anthony Russell. In September 2006 Longrich argued that that earliest known ancestor of birds, a feathered creature called Archaeopteryx, likely flew with wings on all four limbs after examining fossils originally collected in Germany in 1861.

"You can really find amazing things if you just keep looking at fossils we already have sitting in museum collections," he said. "The number of dinosaur discoveries is actually accelerating because we just keep digging up more material to work with."

Citation: The paper "Albertonykus borealis, a new alvarezsaur (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Maastrichtian of Alberta, Canada: implications for the systematics and ecology of the Alvarezsauridae" by Nicholas R. Longrich and Philip J. Currie is published in the August, 2008 edition of the journal Cretaceous Research.

Source: University of Calgary

Explore further: Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Science puts snakes on a plain (Update)

Jul 25, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Researchers at Yale have identified an ancient slithering creature from the time of T. rex as the most primitive known snake, a finding with implications for the debate over snake origins.

Primitive birds shared dinosaurs' fate

Sep 19, 2011

A new study puts an end to the longstanding debate about how archaic birds went extinct, suggesting they were virtually wiped out by the same meteorite impact that put an end to dinosaurs 65 million years ...

What did T. rex eat? Each other

Oct 15, 2010

It turns out that the undisputed king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex, didn't just eat other dinosaurs but also each other. Paleontologists from the United States and Canada have found bite marks on the ...

New bony-skulled dinosaur species discovered in Texas

Apr 19, 2010

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of dinosaur with a softball-sized lump of solid bone on top of its skull, according to a paper published in the April issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.

Recommended for you

Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

Jul 22, 2014

Scientists said Tuesday they hope that radar technology will help them find a century-old Aboriginal burial ground on an Australian island, bringing some closure to the local indigenous population.

Archaeologists excavate NY Colonial battleground

Jul 19, 2014

Archaeologists are excavating an 18th-century battleground in upstate New York that was the site of a desperate stand by Colonial American troops, the flashpoint of an infamous massacre and the location of the era's largest ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MrFred
not rated yet Sep 24, 2008
My vote says it's a chicken
gopher65
not rated yet Sep 24, 2008
My vote says that it would have tasted like chicken.
jimology
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2008
Chicken or dinosaur, I don't know... but if they can find these bones all over the earth, then why can't we find the "holy grail" missing humanoid link???
pocketgopher
not rated yet Sep 29, 2008
Everyone knows, like Palin said, the earth was created 4000 years ago. Satan, after eating his fill of tasty barbequed dino, left those bones on earth to tempt us. It's clear as day.
jeffsaunders
5 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2008
jimology - Chicken or dinosaur, I don't know... but if they can find these bones all over the earth, then why can't we find the "holy grail" missing humanoid link???


What makes you think there is any such thing as a missing link? Or for that matter that it is some kind of holy Grail? There are much more interesting things to discover than to worry about trying to convince the unconvincable.