A fearsome lizard whose name means “reaper of death” is the first new tyrannosaur species to be identified in Canada in 50 years, say researchers with the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The dinosaur is shown in a handout illustration. (Photo by Julius Csotonyi, University of Calgary

‘Reaper of death:’ Fearsome new dinosaur species discovered in Alberta

Tyrannosaur not believed to have been a direct ancestor of T. rex, but its own evolutionary offshoot

A fearsome lizard with a name meaning “reaper of death” is the first new tyrannosaur species to be identified in Canada in 50 years, say researchers with the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Tyrannosaurs were large meat-eating dinosaurs that walked on two legs and had short arms, two fingers and massive skulls with dagger-like teeth. Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous in this group.

Jared Voris was examining skull fragments stored in a drawer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., as part of his masters thesis when he noticed features not seen in other tyrannosaur specimens. The most obvious were prominent vertical ridges along the upper jaw line.

“We’d find one feature, and then we’d find another, and then it would just kind of cascade into finally understanding that this was something completely different than what we’d seen before,” said Voris, who is now working on his PhD in paleontology at the University of Calgary.

Voris, 25, said “it’s definitely a weird feeling” to make a big discovery so early in his career.

He figures the beast could have been about eight metres long with an 80-centimetre skull.

“It would have been quite an imposing animal,” he said. ”It definitely would have caused some panic.”

READ MORE: B.C. researcher unveils province’s first unique dinosaur discovery

The new species is named Thanatotheristes degrootorum, which combines the Greek word for “reaper of death” with the name of a southern Alberta couple, the DeGroots, who happened upon the fossil fragments along the shore of the Bow River west of Medicine Hat, Alta., in 2010.

Darla Zelenitsky, who is Voris’s PhD thesis supervisor, said Thanatotheristes predates T. rex by about 12 million years and is the oldest known tyrannosaur discovered in Canada.

She said it offers clues about a poorly understood time period.

“We’re learning more about the ecosystem at this older period of time when dinosaurs roamed southern Alberta,” she said.

Only two other dinosaurs have been found in the same rock formation, and both were plant-eaters.

“This is the first apex predatory dinosaur species known from this formation,” said Zelenitsky.

“To me this is a big discovery and it’s even more exciting because it was made by one of my students.”

ALSO READ: Meet the T. rex cousin who you could literally look down on

The new tyrannosaur is not believed to have been a direct ancestor of T. rex, but was its own evolutionary offshoot. It seems to have more in common with a type of tyrannosaur found in Alberta called Daspletosaurus.

Francois Therrien, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell, said the general public can play a role in new discoveries, just like the DeGroots did.

“A lot of people go in areas that paleontologists would not think of going, either because we’re unaware that there’s exposures in that area or just because there’s bigger pockets of badlands that we tend to focus on,” he said.

Anyone who finds a fossil should leave it where it is, note its exact location and contact the museum, he said.

Therrien, who also worked with Voris, said the student’s discovery is significant.

“First, discovering a new species and, second, it is a tyrannosaur. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”

An article detailing Thanatotheristes degrootorum and written by Voris, Zelenitsky, Therrien and paleontologist Caleb Brown, was published Monday in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Science

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

Asphalt plant can soon begin operations in Steelhead

Council votes 4-3 to permit amendment to Land Use Contract, notes legal implications

Vancouver double homicide leads to arrest in Harrison Hot Springs Wednesday

VPD and RCMP tracked dumped vehicle connected to killings to Chilliwack

Multiple accidents slowing westbound Highway 1 traffic

3 accidents in Langley, Abbotsford within 30 minutes

Thief steals bucket truck in Abbotsford while worker is 20 feet in air

Employee is able to jump to safety after suspect drives into pole

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit Bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Surrey officer-impersonation scam continues ‘almost daily’

Police reiterate warning that demands for Bitcoin in exchange for waived charges are fraudulent

Indigenous leader Ed John pleads not guilty to historical sex charges

Ed John’s lawyer entered the plea by telephone on behalf of his client

Woman who talked to unconscious husband for 30 years gets solace from B.C. study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

RCMP investigate threat against Indigenous totem poles on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast

Police describe the nature of the threat as ‘sensitive’

Investigation clears RCMP in incident where man fell from Langley overpass

‘Officers acted commendably and placed themselves at risk’ police watchdog report finds

Most Read