September 25, 2008

Smallest N. American Dinosaur Fossil Found

Canadian scientists announced the discovery of the fossil of a species of tiny dinosaur that's the smallest dinosaur yet found in North America.

University of Calgary paleontology researcher Nick Longrich said the unusual dinosaur was the size of a chicken, ran on two legs and scoured the ancient forest floor for termites. The fossil was found by Longrick and University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie during the excavation of an ancient bone bed near Red Deer, Alberta.

"These are bizarre animals," said Longrich. "They have long and slender legs, stumpy arms with huge claws and tweezer-like jaws. They look like an animal created by Dr. Seuss."

Called Albertonykus borealis, the slender bird-like creature is a new member of the family Alvarezsauridae and one of only a few such fossils found outside of South America and Asia, the scientists said.

"Proportionately, the forelimbs are shorter than in a Tyrannosaurus, but they are powerfully-built, so they seem to have served a purpose," Longrich said, suggesting the newly discovered species might have used their forelimbs to rip open logs in search of insects.

Longrich, Currie and colleagues report their discovery in the August edition of the journal Cretaceous Research.