New Meat-Eating Dinosaur from Late Jurassic Period Discovered in China

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May 5, 2013 8:44 PM EST

Scientists have identified the fossilised skeleton of a baby dinosaur, discovered in northwestern China, as a new species.

The skeletal remains represent a new species of coelurosaur, the clade containing all theropod dinosaurs including T. Rex. In 2006, scientists at the George Washington University discovered the dinosaur specimen while exploring the Shishugou Formation in China.

They recovered the partial skeleton as well as other remains of the dinosaur. Based on their estimations, researchers revealed that the skull belonged to a baby dinosaur that was less than a year old when it died. The new theropod measured about one metre (3 feet) long and weighed only 1.3 kilogramme (3 pounds), reported LiveScience.

Researchers named the new species as Aorun zhaoi after the Dragon King in the Chinese epic tale "Journey to the West". This is the fifth coelurosaur that has been discovered at the Shishugou Formation, a geological site from where diverse species of dinosaur specimens have been recovered. The layers of sedimentary rock at this site date back to the Late Jurassic period, more than 161 million years ago.

"All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg. We were pleasantly surprised to find a skull buried in the rock too," James Clark, biologist at the George Washington University, said in a statement.

"We were able to look at microscopic details of Aorun's bones and they showed that the animal was less than a year old when it died on the banks of a stream," said Jonah Choiniere, a senior researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Researchers found that Aorun had small but numerous teeth, which suggest that the theropod might have eaten prey like lizards and small relatives of today's mammals and crocodilians. 

The details of the findings are published in the journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

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