When a Canadian dairy farmer started digging around recently, it wasn’t root vegetables he was after.
While on a hike near their home in Alberta, John De Groot and his wife, Sandra, unearthed the well-preserved jawbones of an entirely new tyrannosaur species that scientists have dubbed the “Reaper of Death.”
At an estimated 79.5 million years old, Thanatotheristes degrootorum — a cousin of the T. rex — is the oldest known fossil of the tyrannosaur kind ever found in North America, according to the University of Calgary and Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Dr. François Therrien, curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology, said in a statement on the museum’s blog, “We are thrilled to announce the first new species of tyrannosaur to be discovered in Canada in 50 years.”
In a report published in the journal Cretaceous Research, researchers described the new species as an “apex predator” that measured around 26-feet long and grew serrated teeth to almost 3-inches long. Its genus name is inspired by Thanatos, the Greek god of death, and combined with the Greek word for reaper, “theristes.” The new “degrootorum” species honors De Groot, the humble farmer and paleontology enthusiast.
“It definitely would have been quite an imposing animal,” lead researcher Jared Voris, of the University of Calgary, told Live Science. “Roughly 8 feet [tall] at the hips.”
Voris also pointed out what makes this tyrannosaur particularly unique. “These ridges are not like anything we’ve ever seen before in other tyrannosaur species,” he said. “Exactly what the ridges do, we’re not quite sure.”
It took a decade for the rare fossils to be verified after John and Sandra found the bones on the shore of Alberta’s Bow River.
“The jawbone was an absolutely stunning find,” said John. “We knew it was special because you could clearly see the fossilized teeth.”
“John always said that one day he would find a dinosaur skull,” added Sandra. “Finding the jaw was exciting. Hearing that it is a new species, and seeing it given our family name, was beyond belief.”
Scientists believe the T. degrootorum enjoyed a high rank on the food chain, as most other dinosaurs found in that region were plant-eaters. But it wasn’t as big as his famous relative the T. rex, which didn’t arrive in the Cretaceous period until about 12 million years later, according to the University of Edinburgh’s Steve Brusatte, who was not involved in the study.
He told Live Science this discovery demonstrates that tyrannosaurs “weren’t all colossal hypercarnivores like T. rex, but there were many subgroups that had their own domains and their own unique body types and probably hunting styles.”
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