New dinosaur's keen nose made it a formidable predator, study finds

May 11, 2015
Two Saurornitholestes sullivani raptors attacks a subadult hadrosaur Parasaurolophus tubicen. Credit: Mary P. Wiliams

A researcher from the University of Pennsylvania has identified a species of dinosaur closely related to Velociraptor, the group of creatures made infamous by the movie "Jurassic Park." The newly named species likely possessed a keen sense of smell that would have made it a formidable predator.

Steven Jasinski, a in the School of Arts & Sciences' Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Penn and acting curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, discovered the new species while investigating a specimen originally assigned to a previously known species. His analysis suggests the fossil—part of the dinosaur's skull—actually represents a brand new species, which Jasinski has named Saurornitholestes sullivani.

Jasinski reported his findings this month in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin.

The specimen, roughly 75 million years old, was discovered by paleontologist Robert Sullivan in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area of New Mexico in 1999. When first described, scientists believed it was a member of Saurornitholestes langstoni, a species of theropod in the Dromaeosauridae family that had been found in present-day Alberta, Canada.

But when Jasinski began a comparative analysis of the specimen to other S. langstoni specimens, he found subtle differences. Notably, he observed that the surface of the skull corresponding with the brain's olfactory bulb was unusually large. This finding implies a powerful .

Steven E. Jasinski. Credit: Mary P. Wiliams

"This feature means that Saurornitholestes sullivani had a relatively better sense of smell than other dromaeosaurid dinosaurs, including Velociraptor, Dromaeosaurus, and Bambiraptor," Jasinski said. "This keen olfaction may have made S. sullivani an intimidating predator as well."

S. sullivani comes from the end of the time of dinosaurs, or the Late Cretaceous, and represents the only named dromaeosaur from this period in North America south of Montana.

At the time S. sullivani lived, North America was split into two continents separated by an inland sea. This dinosaur lived on the western shores in an area called Laramidia.

Numerous dromaeosaurs, which are commonly called raptors, are known from more northern areas in Laramidia, including Alberta and Montana. However, S. sullivani represents the only named dromaeosaur from the Late Cretaceous of southern Laramidia.

S. sullivani shared its world with numerous other dinosaurs. Plant-eating contemporary dinosaurs included the duck-billed hadrosaurs Parasaurolophus walkeri and Kritosaurus navajovius, the horned dinosaur Pentaceratops sternbergii, the pachycephalsaurs Stegoceras novomexicanum and Sphaerotholus goodwini and the ankylosaurs Nodocephalosaurus kirtlandensis and recently named Ziapelta sanjuanensis. Other contemporary meat-eating theropods included the tyrannosaurs Bistahieversor sealeyi and Daspletosaurus, along with ostrich-like ornithomimids.

Though a distinct species, S. sullivani appears to be closely related to S. langstoni. Finding the two as distinct species further shows that differences existed between dinosaurs between the northern and southern parts of North America.

At less than 3 feet at its hip and roughly 6 feet in length, S. sullivani was not a large dinosaur. However, previous findings of related species suggest the animal would have been agile and fast, perhaps hunting in packs and using its acute sense of to track down prey.

"Although it was not large, this was not a dinosaur you would want to mess with," Jasinski said

Explore further: New species of dinosaur discovered lying forgotten in a museum

More information: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin, econtent.unm.edu/cdm/search/collection/bulletins

Related Stories

New horned dinosaur reveals unique wing-shaped headgear

June 18, 2014

Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur (ceratopsian) based on fossils collected from Montana in the United States and Alberta, Canada. Mercuriceratops (mer-cure-E-sare-ah-tops) gemini was approximately 6 meters ...

Bizarre 'platypus' dinosaur discovered

April 27, 2015

Although closely related to the notorious carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex, a new lineage of dinosaur discovered in Chile is proving to be an evolutionary jigsaw puzzle, as it preferred to graze upon plants.

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

September 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State University and Brigham ...

Recommended for you

Industrial "edge cities" have helped China grow

August 18, 2017

China's massive investment in industrial parks has paid economic dividends while reshaping the urban areas where they are located, according to a newly published study co-authored by an MIT expert on urban economics.

Ancient species of giant sloth discovered in Mexico

August 17, 2017

Mexican scientists said Wednesday they have discovered the fossilized remains of a previously unknown species of giant sloth that lived 10,000 years ago and died at the bottom of a sinkhole.

The mathematics of golf

August 16, 2017

(Phys.org)—The official Rules of Golf, which are continually being revised and updated as new equipment emerges, have close ties to mathematics. In many cases, math is used to place limitations on golf equipment, such as ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.