Chinese Fossils Identified As New Theropod Species
May 5, 2013

Fossils Classified As New Dinosaur Species

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A set of fossil remains discovered in northwestern China back in 2006 have been classified as a new species of carnivorous dinosaur belonging to the same suborder as the Tyrannosaurus rex.

The theropod fossils were discovered in a remote region of Xinjiang and included a skull, a mandible and a partial skeleton of the dinosaur. The creature, which was named Aorun zhaoi in honor of the Dragon King from the Chinese literary work Journey to the West, is estimated to have been slightly more than three feet long and weighed roughly three pounds, though it was said to have been less than a year old when it became fossilized.

The remains were located by George Washington University biology professor James Clark, then-doctoral student Jonah Choiniere, and an international team of colleagues. Their findings are detailed in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

“All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg. We were pleasantly surprised to find a skull buried in the rock too,” Dr. Clark, who specializes in systematics and paleontology of dinosaurs and crocodylomorpha, explained in a statement Friday.

“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,” added Dr. Choiniere, who is now a senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to the researchers, Aorun zhaoi would have lived during the earliest part of the Late Jurassic Period (approximately 161 million years ago). It had numerous small teeth, which suggests that it would have eaten prey such as lizards and small creatures biologically related to modern-day mammals and crocodilians.

This is reportedly the fifth new theropod discovered at the Wucaiwan geological formation by Dr. Clark´s team, which is co-led by Dr. Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Their work has been funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences and the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation.