Twenty-one years ago, Sterling Nesbitt discovered the fossilized bones of a dinosaur in New Mexico. He was 16 years old at the time. In a study published on May 6 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, Nesbitt’s discovery has now been identified as a new dinosaur species.
The dino, known as Suskityrannus hazelae, was a type of tyrannosaurid. That means it was an ancestor of the T. rex. “The small group of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs would give rise to some of the biggest predators that we’ve ever seen,” Nesbitt said. He was the lead author of the study. He works as a paleontologist at Virginia Tech.
Scientists know that Suskityrannus hazelae was quite small. It was only a little larger than the skull of the T. rex. It weighed about 90 pounds. A T. rex could weigh up to nine tons.
The discovery fills an important gap in the evolution of dinosaurs. Suskityrannus hazelae roamed the Earth 92 million years ago. That’s more than 20 million years before the rise of the T. rex. “We don’t really have a lot of dinosaurs from this particular time period,” Victoria Arbour told Nova. She’s a paleontologist at Canada’s Royal BC Museum. She was not part of the study. “Anything we find is a huge increase in our knowledge,” she said.
The report about Suskityrannus hazelae comes just three months after North Carolina State University paleontologists reported identifying another tyrannosaurid. It is called Moros intrepidus. It was also a tiny relative of T. rex, and about 4 million years older than Suskityrannus hazelae.