Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tyrannosaur Tid-Bits

Well, guess what? There's more Tyrannosaur goodness in the news. It's about time; I was starting to fear that we'd run out of discoveries. It had been weeks since some new detail about that most iconic of dinosaur families came out. Weeks!

First up, a bit of phylogenetic housekeeping. Proceratosaurus bradleyi, a theropod of the Middle Jurassic, has been placed within the Tyrannosauroidea. The paper was first published in March, but just now came on-line, though it's unfortunately not available in its entirety. A British-German team of paleontologists created a 3D image of the skull using computed tomography technology. This new examination of the skull revealed that, like all tyrannosaurs, the bones of its skull were highly pneumatized, meaning they were chock full of air chambers. It also bears the distinctive D-shaped teeth at the front of the upper jaw as do other tyrannosaurs. Check out the BBC for an absolutely lovely little video summing up this new knowledge.

It's been a long and bumpy ride for P. bradleyi, first called Megalosaurus, then believed to be a relative of Ceratosaurus. About ten years ago, it inched a bit closer to home when a University of Maryland study placed it within the Coelurosaurs the group which contains the tyrannosaurs. This analysis makes it the oldest known of T. rex's relatives, a few million years older than the Chinese Guanlong. And it reveals that the early tyrannosaurs had a large range: P. bradleyi was found in a British quarry.

Next: Yet more evidence that Tyrannosaurs were given to rather vicious intraspecific tussles. A new paper in the journal Palaios describes a team of Northern Illinois University paleontologists' analysis of a juvenile tyrannosaur nicknamed "Jane." A series of lesions on her skull were found to have been left by the teeth of another tyrannosaur, and though they healed, the wound was serious enough that as "she" grew, her snout was warped to one side.

One of the things I love about paleontology is that though we can never hope to have a complete view of the ancient world (or worlds), we'll always have more to learn. And each discovery colors in that picture a bit more.

Proceratosaurus drawing from the British Natural History Museum.

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