A fearsome lizard whose name means “reaper of death” is the first new tyrannosaur species to be identified in Canada in 50 years, say researchers with the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The dinosaur is shown in a handout illustration. (Photo by Julius Csotonyi, University of Calgary

‘Reaper of death:’ Fearsome new dinosaur species discovered in Alberta

Tyrannosaur not believed to have been a direct ancestor of T. rex, but its own evolutionary offshoot

A fearsome lizard with a name meaning “reaper of death” is the first new tyrannosaur species to be identified in Canada in 50 years, say researchers with the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Tyrannosaurs were large meat-eating dinosaurs that walked on two legs and had short arms, two fingers and massive skulls with dagger-like teeth. Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous in this group.

Jared Voris was examining skull fragments stored in a drawer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., as part of his masters thesis when he noticed features not seen in other tyrannosaur specimens. The most obvious were prominent vertical ridges along the upper jaw line.

“We’d find one feature, and then we’d find another, and then it would just kind of cascade into finally understanding that this was something completely different than what we’d seen before,” said Voris, who is now working on his PhD in paleontology at the University of Calgary.

Voris, 25, said “it’s definitely a weird feeling” to make a big discovery so early in his career.

He figures the beast could have been about eight metres long with an 80-centimetre skull.

“It would have been quite an imposing animal,” he said. ”It definitely would have caused some panic.”

READ MORE: B.C. researcher unveils province’s first unique dinosaur discovery

The new species is named Thanatotheristes degrootorum, which combines the Greek word for “reaper of death” with the name of a southern Alberta couple, the DeGroots, who happened upon the fossil fragments along the shore of the Bow River west of Medicine Hat, Alta., in 2010.

Darla Zelenitsky, who is Voris’s PhD thesis supervisor, said Thanatotheristes predates T. rex by about 12 million years and is the oldest known tyrannosaur discovered in Canada.

She said it offers clues about a poorly understood time period.

“We’re learning more about the ecosystem at this older period of time when dinosaurs roamed southern Alberta,” she said.

Only two other dinosaurs have been found in the same rock formation, and both were plant-eaters.

“This is the first apex predatory dinosaur species known from this formation,” said Zelenitsky.

“To me this is a big discovery and it’s even more exciting because it was made by one of my students.”

ALSO READ: Meet the T. rex cousin who you could literally look down on

The new tyrannosaur is not believed to have been a direct ancestor of T. rex, but was its own evolutionary offshoot. It seems to have more in common with a type of tyrannosaur found in Alberta called Daspletosaurus.

Francois Therrien, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell, said the general public can play a role in new discoveries, just like the DeGroots did.

“A lot of people go in areas that paleontologists would not think of going, either because we’re unaware that there’s exposures in that area or just because there’s bigger pockets of badlands that we tend to focus on,” he said.

Anyone who finds a fossil should leave it where it is, note its exact location and contact the museum, he said.

Therrien, who also worked with Voris, said the student’s discovery is significant.

“First, discovering a new species and, second, it is a tyrannosaur. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”

An article detailing Thanatotheristes degrootorum and written by Voris, Zelenitsky, Therrien and paleontologist Caleb Brown, was published Monday in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Science

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Blockades violating people’s rights to move freely

Too many protesters clearly believe their rights supersede other citizens’ rights, says letter writer

Quarterway, Cilaire have the right touch in football playoffs

Nanaimo Elementary Teachers’ Physical Education Association organized leagues this past fall

Students projected to be in new wing of École Hammond Bay in two years

Project to expand north-end French immersion school to add 13 classrooms

Crimson Coast Dance Society salutes African dance during Black History Month

Dancers from Mozambique, Rwanda and Cameroon to give demonstrations and lessons

Nanaimo Clippers, clad in Snuneymuxw jerseys, win in OT

BCHL team wins both its weekend games to stay in contention for first place on the Island

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The protests have manifested themselves as blockades on different rail lines across the country

Canucks acquire forward Tyler Toffoli from Kings in push for playoffs

Vancouver sends Schaller, Madden, pick to L.A.

Nanaimo a capital city in the beard business – Wildman Beard Co.

Wildman Beard Co. gained early success with Nanaimo mill workers

Nanaimo a capital city in the beard business – Big City Beards

Big City Beards inspired by an itch that had to be scratched

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been talking Aboriginal title for a year

Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route

Trudeau tightlipped on plan to end protests ‘quickly and peacefully’

The prime minister, who cancelled a two-day trip to Barbados this week to deal with the crisis at home

B.C. budget expected to stay the course as economic growth moderates

Finance minister said ICBC costs have affected budget

Captain says nothing beats VIU volleyball program

Graduating player Andrea Cankovic has three national titles and isn’t quite done yet

Most Read