A bit of exposed leg led to a very impressive discovery in the remote Xinjiang region of northwestern China. A new species of Theropod, named Aorun zhaoi, for the Dragon King from the Chinese epic tale of Journey to the West, was discovered by a George Washington University biologist and his team.
This flesh-eating, carnivorous dinosaur was young when his body fell to the earth on the banks of a ancient stream. Less than a year old when he died, his short existence has continued to linger on in the form of bones, which have at present resurfaced as fossil remains.
Dr. Choiniere, at the time of discovery a doctorate student working under Dr. Clark, explained that they determined his young age by studying the microscopic details of Aorun’s bones.
“The finding was arrived at due to the work of James Clark, the Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of Biology, in the Department of Biological Sciences of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Clark, along with doctoral student Jonah Choiniere and a team of international researchers, who dug up the dinosaur specimen in Xinjiang in China in 2006.”
From George Washington University: “All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg,” said Dr. Clark. “We were pleasantly surprised to find a skull buried in the rock too.”
In the research paper published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, the recovery of the skull, mandible and partial skeleton, is explained in detail. “The new theropod was an estimated 1 meter or just over 3 feet long and probably weighed about 3 pounds.”
“Its small, numerous teeth suggest that it would have eaten prey like lizards and small relatives of today’s mammals and crocodilians. This is the fifth new theropod discovered at the Wucaiwan locality by the team, co-led by Dr. Clark and Dr. Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”
It’s currently unknown what drove this “dragon king” to extinction, but the causes are no doubt very different from the causes of most modern extinctions and the mass extinction event that is currently occurring.
This new discovery just goes to show how much remains unknown about the relatively distant past when this species lived. What kind of life forms lived back that that we as of now know nothing of?