Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) evolved from tiny dinosaurs, fossils show

Tiny T Rex

Perhaps the most exciting part of the new discovery is the new name: Suskityrannus hazelae, the younger sibling of the larger and much more ferocious T-rex.

A new relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex - much smaller than the huge, ferocious dinosaur made famous in countless books and films, including, yes, "Jurassic Park" - has been discovered and named by a Virginia Tech paleontologist and an global team of scientists.

Although the researchers don't know what Suskityrannus ate, the carnivorous dinosaur probably hunted small animals.

"Suskityrannus gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet", Nesbitt said. What makes this new dinosaur special, however, is that it's more closely related to T. rex and other tyrannosaurids than to other early Cretaceous tyrannosauroids.

Dr. Sterling Nesbitt and the partial skeleton of Suskityrannus hazelae, which he found at age 16 in 1998.

In fact, the first partial skull of the mini tyrannosaur was found in 1997 by Robert Denton, now a senior geologist with Terracon Consultants, an engineering consulting firm in New Jersey.

Suskityrannus hazelae isn't the first or even smallest of the Tyrannosaurus family tree, but Nesbitt said it provides the best example of how this family of modest-sized dinosaurs evolved into the towering horror of movies, television shows and nightmares. The find also links the older and smaller tyrannosauroids from North America and China with the much larger tyrannosaurids that lasted until the final extinction of non-avian dinosaurs.

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The name means "Hazel's coyote tyrant", derived from the Zuni word for coyote, suski, with a nod to field project worker Hazel Wolfe.

Palaeontologists believe the Suskityrannus hazelae lived around 90 million years ago.

"You can think of this new tyrannosaur as a hugely important piece in the previously incomplete jigsaw puzzle of North American dinosaur evolution", said Alan H. Turner, an Associate Professor of Anatomical Sciences in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. Since then, more distant cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex, such as Dilong paradoxus, have been found across Asia.

"Following Sterling out to see his dinosaur, I was amazed at how complete a skeleton was lying exposed at the site", says Kirkland.

"We did not know these fossils represented a tyrannosauroid for more than a decade after they were discovered", Nesbitt told Gizmodo in an email.

For years, the scientists weren't sure with what they were dealing with, figuring the remains belonged to some kind of dromaeosaur, like a Velociraptor. After 2006, Nesbitt brought the fossils with him through various postings as student and researcher in New York, Texas, Illinois, and now Blacksburg.

Suskityrannus reveals more about the mid-Cretaceous period, when Earth was warmer and the sea level was higher and how things changed for dinosaurs afterward, Wolfe said. "If we did not find the two specimens of Suskityrannus we would have never known this animal existed".

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