A new species of meat-eating dinosaur has been discovered in northwestern China by researchers from George Washington University. The fossil remains of the small theropod dinosaur show that the individual in question was less than a year old when it died. The new species has been named Aorun zhaoi, after the Dragon King of the Chinese epic Journey to the West.
The fossils were found by James Clark, the Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of Biology in the Department of Biological Sciences of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, in the remote Xinjiang region of China, back in 2006.
At the site of the find, a skull, a mandible and part of the skeleton of the dinosaur were discovered. The new species is estimated to have been about 1 meter long (over 3 feet), and likely only weighed around 3 pounds.
“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.”
Because the only fossils yet discovered of this species are of this juvenile it’s unclear how large these animals could grow to be.
“We were able to look at microscopic details of Aorun’s bones and they showed that the animal was less than a year old when it died on the banks of a stream,” said Dr. Choiniere, a senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“Aorun lived more than 161 million years ago, in the earliest part of the Late Jurassic Period. Its small, numerous teeth suggest that it would have eaten prey like lizards and small relatives of today’s mammals and crocodilians.”
The new species was described in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
In related news, the oldest fossil yet of a marine reptile was recently discovered in the Netherlands, and suggests that marine reptiles likely originated in Europe.