Friday, April 24, 2009

New Dinosaurs from the Gobi!

The announcement of newly discovered dinosaurs is always exciting to me. Several new species, completely unknown to science, are found every year. Most don't make the newspapers, but each of them provides a more vivid and detailed vision of the great reptiles and their world, a very different Earth than the planet we currently call home.

Most recently two brand new dinosaurs have been unearthed among a treasure trove of fossil skeletons in China's Gobi Desert. The discovery of Xiongguanlong baimoensis, an early ancestor of the enigmatic Tyrannosaurus rex, is especially remarkable as it helps fill in a large gap between the early and late chapters of tyrannosaur evolutionary history. Xiongguanlong, which is Mandarin for "grand pass dragon", was an impressive predator, with a mouthful of 70 flesh-tearing teeth, standing 5 feet tall at the hip while weighing almost a third of a ton. Formidable and frightening, truly, but was still relatively diminutive when compared to its famous descendant. The Tyrannosaurus named "Sue", magnificently displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago, the largest and most complete specimen known, stood 14 feet tall at the hips, weighed between 6 and 7 tons, and was over 42 feet long.

Tyrannosaurus rex (for the record, I absolutely detest the term "T-Rex", an abominably dumbed-down nickname) has long been my favorite dinosaur. I think it is the single most astonishing and charismatic animal ever to live upon our planet. Little wonder that even 65 million years later, Tyrannosaurus rex continues to reign in museums, movies, and our imaginations. It's fabulous that something so very ancient continues to happily make me feel nine years old.

A new ornithomimosaur, or ostrich-mimic dinosaur, called Beishanlong grandis, was also discovered by the Gobi expedition. The animal weighed an estimated 1,400 pounds and rivaled the late Cretaceous ornithomimosaur Gallimimus in size. And it wasn't yet fully grown!

While analyzing a cross section of a lower leg bone, the scientists have be able to determine the dinosaur's age by counting growth rings. It appears that it was only about 14 years old at the time of its death, and the dinosaur was still actively growing.

The abundance of new dinosaurs from Chinese localities like the Yujingzi Basin, allows palentologists to study the long history of dinosaur evolution by geographic and environmental parameters in a way that is impossible elsewhere in the world.

Personally, I can't wait to see what they dig up next!


  1. And don't forget that giant flying turtle they dug up in Japan: Terrapene gamera.

    The day after we closed the Sue exhibit at the SMM, and before everyone showed up to start taking her apart, I went into the gallery with my inflatable figure from Munch's "The Scream," set it up as if Sue were about to have it for lunch, and took some photos. They didn't turn out, alas. One of those chances I'll probably never have again.

  2. You'd better believe I would have posted those pictures here. What a cool photo shoot!