Pinnochio Immortalized As A New Long-Snouted Dinosaur Species
May 7, 2014

Pinnochio Immortalized As A New Long-Snouted Dinosaur Species

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

If Mister Geppetto was a real woodcarver rather than a fictional character, he may have been pleasantly surprised to learn that his beloved puppet Pinocchio is now immortalized in the realm of science – and that’s no lie.

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Edinburgh have described a new species of long-snouted tyrannosaur, nicknamed Pinocchio rex, that was recently unearthed in southern China – only the third long-snouted tyrannosaur ever found; the previous two were of the Alioramus genus and had been discovered in Mongolia.

The researchers say the animal, which is a cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex, was a fearsome carnivore that roamed the Asian landscape about 66 million years ago (Late Cretaceous Period).

However, this new dinosaur looked much different than most tyrannosaurs of the period, having an elongated skull and long, narrow teeth compared with the deeper, more powerful jaws and thick teeth of T. rex. Paleontologists were uncertain of the existence of long-snouted tyrannosaurs until the fossil – named Qianzhousaurus sinensis – was unearthed.

Both previous discoveries of long-snouted tyrannosaurs were juveniles and it wasn’t clear at the time if these were a new class of dinosaur or if they were at an early stage in the growing cycle and may not have yet developed the deeper, more robust skulls of the typical adult tyrannosaur.

The new specimen is of an animal nearing adulthood, say the researchers, noting that the fossil was found largely intact and very well preserved, and thereby confirming the existence of a tyrannosaur species with long snout.

The team believes Q. sinensis would have lived alongside other deep-snouted tyrannosaurs but would not have been in direct competition with them, as most tyrannosuars were larger and likely hunted different prey.

According to a National Geographic report, Q. sinensis was about 29 feet long and weighed about 1,800 pounds. The dinosaur was smaller and likely more nimble than T. rex, which was much longer (42 feet).

In a paper to be published in the May 7 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the team said they have now created a new branch of the tyrannosaur family for specimens with long snouts and said they expect more dinosaurs to be added to the group as Asian excavations continue to identify new specimens.

"This is a different breed of tyrannosaur. It has the familiar toothy grin of T. rex, but its snout was much longer and it had a row of horns on its nose. It might have looked a little comical, but it would have been as deadly as any other tyrannosaur, and maybe even a little faster and stealthier," study coauthor Dr Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said in a statement.

"The new discovery is very important. Along with Alioramus from Mongolia, it shows that the long-snouted tyrannosaurids were widely distributed in Asia. Although we are only starting to learn about them, the long-snouted tyrannosaurs were apparently one of the main groups of predatory dinosaurs in Asia," added coauthor Prof Junchang Lü, of the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

As for determining Q. sinensis as a new species, the team said the evidence is “unequivocal” that Pinnochio rex is a true long-snouted tyrannosaur. This conclusion was made due in part to the fact that the skeleton was twice the size of the Alioramus discoveries, which were both determined to be juveniles. This immediately suggests that Pinocchio rex was a full-grown adult when it perished. Also, the bones of Q. sinenses were fused together in a way that only occurs in mature dinosaurs, such as has been observed in adult T. rex fossils.

In an interview with NatGeo’s Christine Dell’Amore, Thomas R. Holtz, a University of Maryland vertebrate paleontologist who was not involved in the study, said that the fossil is “most definitely a long-snouted tyrannosaur,” and not a juvenile Alioramus.

“It might be argued that this is just a fully adult member of a new species of Alioramus, but they chose to create a new genus name for it," said Holtz.

The consensus is still out on why this branch of the tyrannosaur family had a long snout, but the researchers are planning to run computer models to see what kind of prey these Pinocchio-nosed dinosaurs were best at catching. In the modern natural world, long-snouted animals, such as crocodiles, are best at catching fish.

It is likely that Q. sinensis had a much weaker bite than T. rex, so it’s safe to assume that the long-snouted Q. sinensis hunted smaller and less challenging prey than what T. rex hunted.

The fossil record at Ganzhou reveals food would have been plentiful during the Late Cretaceous. “The environment was lush with trees and water that hosted a panoply of life-forms including lizards; small, feathered egg-eaters called oviraptors; and long-necked plant-eaters,” wrote NatGeo’s Dell’Amore.

Image 2 (below): Image Caption: The image shows the skull of Qianzhousaurus (upper jaw in left lateral view and lower jaw in reversed right lateral view). Credit: Junchang Lu