Meet the long-lost cousin of T-rex – complete with a metre-long snout that even dinosaur experts admit made the killer beast look “a little comical”.
But Edinburgh scientists, who have identified remains belonging to the prehistoric super-predator, say the long-nosed carnivore was capable of dispatching prey with just as much efficiency as its iconic relative.
Working with partners at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, staff from Edinburgh University have carried out a “transformative” study on the intact skeleton of a tyrannosaur nearing adulthood.
Pinocchio-rex, as the new dinosaur has been nicknamed, terrorised other animals in what is now southern China more than 66 million years ago. With its elongated skull and narrow teeth, the creature could not bite with the same bone-shattering force as T-rex – but city researchers say Qianzhousaurus sinensis was equally deadly thanks to superior speed and stealth abilities.
Dr Steve Brusatte, of Edinburgh University’s school of geosciences and a member of the team which studied the bones, said: “If you were facing it today, it might even seem a little scarier than a conventional T-rex.
“This would have been a pretty intelligent animal with a great sense of smell. It wasn’t as big as a T-rex but still pretty big and really fearsome – it could certainly have outrun and chased down whatever it wanted.”
Dr Brusatte said the predator – whose remains were dug up by accident at a construction site in the Chinese city of Ganzhou – lived alongside deep-snouted tyrannosaurs but would not have been in direct competition with them as they were larger and probably hunted different prey.
Until now, only two fossilised tyrannosaurs with elongated heads had been found, both of which were juveniles.
Scientists were unable to tell if these were a new class of dinosaur or animals at an early growth stage which might have developed deeper, more robust skulls.
Dr Brusatte said the Ganzhou skeleton was unlikely to be the only one identified as extensive excavations in Asia continue.
“This dinosaur would have been about eight to nine metres long, weighing almost a tonne, with lots of really sharp teeth – and it was even faster than T-rex,” he said.
“It would have been the cheetah compared to the lion on the savannah. But the discovery tells us that the tyrannosaur world was about more than just the top apex predators. These dinosaurs were living and behaving in different ways, doing different things.”
The discovery has also been hailed by Dr Brusatte’s partners at the Chinese Academy of Geological sciences.
Professor Junchang Lu, of the academy’s institute of geology, said: “The new discovery is a very important one.
“Along with Alioramus from Mongolia, it shows that the long-snouted tyrannosaurids were widely distributed in Asia.”