July 15, 2009

Scientists: T. rex cousin ate plants

A new dinosaur species found in southern Utah has been identified, a fearsome looking creature that ate only plants, researchers say.

Lindsay Zanno, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, and her colleagues described Nothronychus graffami in a paper published Tuesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The species is related to the velociraptor, the carnivorous dinosaurs made famous by the book and movie Jurassic Park, and to the famous Tyrannosaurus rex. Nothronychus had a height of about 13 feet with short legs and large claws.

It's like a cross between an ostrich and a gorilla and Edward Scissorhands, Zanno said.

A toe bone was found in Utah in 2000, and later digging turned up more of the dinosaur, which lived more than 90 million years ago.

In spite of its predator appearance, its claws and its meat-eating relatives, scientists believe Nothronychus was an herbivore. Zanno said a change of diet may have allowed the species to survive with less competition.