Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dinosaurs of Uzbekistan - Timurlengia euotica

A new species of tyrannosaur which has been discovered in the Kyzyl Kum desert of Uzbekistan.  From just a handful of fossilised bones and a well preserved brain case, palaeontologist’s have been able to build a picture of the dinosaur named Timurlengia euotica from fossils that have been found. The remains have been dated as being 90 to 92 million years old from the Cretaceous period.

This early tyrannosaur was a close cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex and its discovery may hold the key to explaining how its infamous big cousins went on to become such fearsome predators and reach such massive sizes. It would have weighed between 170 to 270 kilograms, would have been about the size of a horse, covered in a mixture of skin and feathers. It was a nimble pursuit hunter and would have chased down its prey before making short work of them with its slender razor sharp teeth. It probably preyed on the various large plant-eaters, especially early duck-billed dinosaurs, which shared its world.

Paleontologists believe that Timurlengia euotica marks an evolutionary turning point for the tyrannosaurs, where the keen senses and brainpower of these top hunters were developed and refined.  Analysis of their brain casing showed it had already developed inner ear structures which would have enabled it to hear lower frequencies, a big advantage for predators when it came to hearing prey and rivals.  It also shows that the advanced brain and senses of the colossal later Cretaceous apex predator T. rex were were already present by the Late Jurassic, more than 90 million years ago. 

However, the sinuses of Timurlengia were seen to be much simpler than their later cousin - whose heightened sense of smell would have helped it to find prey - hinting that the tyrannosaurs had not yet finished evolving all of the master hunter's attributes. As these are on a separate branch of the tyrannosaur family tree, it would also indicate that the these attributes developed in a common ancestor even further back, before splitting off.