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Discovery of New Meat-Eater Dinosaur in China Cutting-Edge- It's a Chinese-American Breakthrough

May 05, 2013 11:49 AM EDT

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Scientists have identified the fossil remains of a small therapod, or meat-eating dinosaur, as a new species.

A team of international researchers from George Washington University has discovered a new species of meat-eating dinosaur in the northwestern corner of China.

In 2006, a team led by James Clark of George Washington University discovered only a partial skeleton of the new species, but included a near-complete skull (shown in the photo above in comparison to a U.S. quarter) and a mandible in a remote region of Xinjiang in China. The animal was only a few feet in length and only weighed around three pounds.

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The team involved in this find were, James Clark, the Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of biology at George Washington University's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, his then graduate student, Jonah Choiniere, and a team of international researchers. Dr. Choiniere is now a well-known and senior most researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was also a Kalbfleisch Fellow and Gerstner scholar at the American Museum of Natural History.

At first, the team found only a bit of the leg on the surface of the discovery spot.

Then, the team was surprised to discover the skull buried in the rock too. As they learned the microscopic details of bones; interestingly, they reckoned that the animal was less than a year old when it died on the banks of a stream. It is unclear how large adults of the species grew to be. The team estimated that these species lived during the Late Jurassic Period nearly 161 million years ago.

After the a great struggle the team named the dinosaur Aorun zhaoi, after the Dragon King of the Chinese epic Journey to the West.

Aorun is the fourth Coelurosaur found in this formation. The species of late-period dinosaurs highly resemble birds. In fact, the scientists classified them under feathered reptiles. Observing their small, numerous teeth, they suggested that it would have eaten prey like lizards and small relatives of today's mammals and crocodilians.

Therapods first emerged about 230 million years ago during the late Triassic period and included large two-legged terrestrial carnivores from the Early Jurassic until the close of the Cretaceous about 65 million years ago. Birds evolved from small therapods and developed into the nearly 10,000 species living today.

The find is cutting-edge in a series of latest revelations made by paleontologists. In late April, scientists were able to trace dinosaurs back to Africa; they made connections. In addition, scientists were able to confirm the discovery of Dahalokely, an ancestor of dinosaurs living in both Madagascar and India.

China has served as a ground of discovery in recent years as paleontologists flock to the untapped region. In a statement released earlier this month, scientists discovered the first example of organic remains from a 190-million-year old fossil discovered in Lufeng in Yunnan, China.

Dr. Clark has been involved in four other discoveries of therapods in the Wucaiwan locality of China, along with Dr. Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and this is the fifth one.

The National Science Foundation Division of Earth Sciences and the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation funded the research.

Journal of Systematic Paleontology published a detailed observation and inference of the team's findings.

Researchers are still determining if the species was as small as they first concluded or just an undeveloped individual that would later grow much larger.

 

 

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