Sunday, September 8, 2013

Teratophoneus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Not long ago in 2011 the discovery of a new kind of tyrannosaurid was made public.  Check out Teratophoneus currieiTeratophoneus translates to "Monstrous Murderer".  The name is a bit intense don't you think?  I mean sure, being a meat-eater and all, this dinosaur no doubt killed some stuff in its day but probably no more than a lot of other predators right?  Teratophoneus lived in what is now Utah, USA, about 75 million years ago and measured twenty feet long from snout to tail.

Teratophoneus curriei life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza

Teratophoneus belongs to the same family that also includes the most famous dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex.  These tyrannosaurids, as we call them, are characterized by having relatively short arms and two fingers on each hand.  Their skulls also tend to have longer, more curved teeth than what one would see in other meat-eating dinosaurs.  Tyrannosaurids flourished all across the northern hemisphere during the late cretaceous period at the very end of what we consider the "Age of the Dinosaurs".  In fact, there were very few other kinds of large, meat-eating dinosaurs that ever coexisted with the tyrannosaurids that anyone knows of.  (Dryptosaurus could technically be considered an example of one of these few being just a tyrannosaurOID and not a tyrannosaurID.  Just missed the cut-off but still VERY closely related to the family...not really a strong exception in my book.)

Cast of Teratophoneus' skull from Big Bend National Park.

Teratophoneus is an important find because it was one of the first tyrannosaurids to be discovered in the South-western United States.  Physically, Teratophoneus has a few unique characteristics even within the tyrannosaurid family.  Most prominent was its snout, which was shorter and deeper than those of its relatives like Tyrannosaurus or Tarbosaurus.  It also had proportionally long legs.  There is a strong chance that the specimen of Teratophoneus that was found was a juvenile which would explain the leggy proportions, however.  We know, thanks to a wide fossil record of other, better studied, tyrannosaurids that these kinds of dinosaurs were lankier and probably faster as juveniles and would later bulk up upon reaching adulthood. 

That's all for this week!  As always I welcome you to leave a comment below or on our facebook page!


Thomas D. Carr, Thomas E. Williamson, Brooks B. Britt and Ken Stadtman (2011). "Evidence for high taxonomic and morphologic tyrannosauroid diversity in the Late Cretaceous (Late Campanian) of the American Southwest and a new short-skulled tyrannosaurid from the Kaiparowits formation of Utah". Naturwissenschaften 98 (3): 241–246. doi:10.1007/s00114-011-0762-7. PMID 21253683.

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