Monday, May 13, 2013

10 Best Recent Dinosaur Discoveries

Pegomastax africanus

With a short, parrot-like beak and tall teeth that act like self-sharpening scissors, puny Pegomastax africanus was one of the most advanced plant-eaters of its day. Smaller than a house cat, this little beast was likely covered with bristles like those of a porcupine. It may have used its fangs for self-defense and sparring for mates, researchers reported last year in ZooKeys.
The species' name means "thick jaw from Africa," and it was identified in 2012 in a collection of fossils at Harvard that were originally found embedded in rock in southern Africa in the 1960s.
Image: Photo and sculpting by Tyler Keillor

Acrotholus audeti

Meet the oldest boneheaded dinosaur in North America, and possibly in the world. Acrotholus audeti was identified from two solid bone skull caps found in southern Alberta, Canada. The bony domes are 10 centimeters (4 inches) thick. The researchers who describe the new species this week in Nature Communications say their find hints at the possibility of more discoveries of small, plant-eating dinosaurs to come.

Crocodyliform vs. Baby Dinosaur

Being a dinosaur does not mean nothing can eat you. And it wasn't just a dino-eat-dino world back in the Mesozoic Era either. The relatives of modern crocodiles were on the prowl back then too, and they sometimes ate baby dinosaurs.
In the photo above, Clint Boyd of the South Dakota School of Mines points to a crocodyliform tooth embedded in the thigh bone of a young dinosaur of a newly identified, but not yet named species. Working at a site in Utah, Boyd and his colleagues were wondering why it was so hard to find a complete skeleton of this new species of ornithopod dinosaur (small, bipedal herbivores), when they noticed that many of the broken bones they kept finding had teeth marks on them. The embedded tooth provides definitive proof they were chomped by crocs, the team reported in February in PLOS ONE.


Did dinosaurs shake their tail feathers to woo a mate? You bet your booty they did, according to a study published in January in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. The researchers reached that conclusion after studying fossils of oviraptors, small flightless dinosaurs, as well as modern birds and reptiles. The strong, flexible tail of the oviraptor was adorned with multicolored feathers -- perfect for showing off. “You have, I think, a tail that is specifically adapted to flaunt its feathers,” study author Scott Persons told Wired.

Nyasasaurus parringtoni

If Nyasasaurus parringtoni isn't the earliest dinosaur, it's the closest thing to it that scientists have found so far. Working from an upper arm bone and six vertebrae found in Tanzania in the 1930s, researchers surmise that Nyasasaurus would have been about the size of a Labrador retriever, but with a much longer tail. In a paper published last year in Biology Letters.
They argue that it lived in the southern part of the supercontinent Pangea about 243 million years ago, predating all other known dinosaurs by at least 10 million years.

Guidraco venator

This snaggle-toothed skull belonged to Guidraco venator, a carnivorous pterosaur that took to the air 120 million years ago with a wingspan up to 3 meters (15 feet). Yes, we know pterosaurs aren't dinosaurs, but we're making an exception for this fearsome flier. Also, its name is a Chinese-Latin mashup that means "ghost dragon hunter."
The tangle of teeth at the end of its beak may have helped it catch fish, researchers reported last year in Naturwissenschaften. Other scientists aren't so sure about that, but one things seems certain: whatever ended up in those teeth met a bad end.

Spinops sternbergorum

Spinops sternbergorum weighed around 2 tons when it was alive, but it was overlooked for decades on the shelves of the Natural History Museum in London. Curators decided the fossils, discovered in 1916 by father and son fossil collectors Charles H. and Levi Sternberg, were in no condition to display. Eventually paleontologists recognized the value of the fossils and cleaned them up for study. They finally gave the horned dinosaur a name last year in a paper published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.


Sciurimimus albersdoerferi

This beautifully preserved specimen of a juvenile Sciurimimus albersdoerferi appears to have had a fluffy coat of feathers across its entire body, scientists reported last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Because Sciurimimus belongs to an ancient branch of the dinosaur family tree, the find suggests that feathers may have been a lot more prevalent among dinosaurs than most scientists thought.

Xenoceratops foremostensis

In October Canadian scientists named a new horned dinosaur species Xenoceratops foremostensis, which means "alien horned-face." Technically this wasn't a new dinosaur discovery (fossils of this species were originally found in 1958), but with a name like that and a face like, well, a horned alien, we couldn't resist including it.
This guy lived 80 million years ago, predating most of the horned dinosaurs, including Triceratops. It was probably around 20 feet long and weighed about 2 tons, had a beak like a parrot and ate plants.

Ornithomimus edmontonicus

The origins of winged flight is a hotly debated topic in paleontology. A study published last year in Science suggests that wings and feathers may have evolved in dinosaurs earlier than previously thought. When researchers took a closer look at several fossil specimens of Ornithomimus edmontonicus, they found winglike forelimbs and hundreds of traces of filaments suggestive of feathers. Ornithomimus belongs to a group of dinosaurs that appears in the fossil record millions of years before maniraptorans, the group of feathered dinosaurs that survives today as birds, the findings hint at even earlier evolutionary origins of wings and feathers.
O. edmontonicus was no flier, however. The researchers estimate it weighed 150 kilograms (330 pounds), so it's wings more likely served some other function, perhaps in courtship or brooding.