A team of paleontologists from the Philip J Currie Dinosaur Museum, the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum has added another species of bird-like feathered dinosaur to the prehistoric catalog, and this one was found in Canada.
A new species of troodontid theropod (a bird-like dinosaur) has been discovered and named for the famed Canadian paleontologist who once led the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller.
Albertavenator curriei, meaning “Currie’s Alberta hunter,” hunted its prey about 71 million years ago in what is now the Red Deer River valley. The naming recognizes Currie’s decades of groundbreaking work in Alberta. Research on the new species was published Monday in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.
Researchers initially thought that some bones discovered in the Badlands around the Drumheller museum and stored there ever since belonged to a Troodon, which lived around 76 million years ago. But new comparisons of bones that form the top of the head revealed these came from a species with a distinctively shorter and more robust skull than the Troodon.
There are many similarities, hence the initial confusion: both dinosaurs walked on two legs, were covered in feathers and were about the size of a person. But scientists now know the Albertavenator lived about five million years after the Troodon.
“The delicate bones of these small feathered dinosaurs are very rare. We were lucky to have a critical piece of the skull that allowed us to distinguish Albertavenator as a new species,” said David Evans, Temerty chair and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and leader of the project.
“We hope to find more complete skeletons of Albertavenator in the future, as this would tell us so much more about this fascinating animal.”
The Drumheller Badlands are so prolific for fossils that hundreds of isolated teeth have been found by researchers over the years and have always been considered to be Troodon. But now scientists are no longer certain.
Because it is so difficult to identify a dinosaur from fragments of fossils, there may be other new species waiting to be discovered in the vast collections of the museum.
“This discovery really highlights the importance of finding and examining skeletal material from these rare dinosaurs,” said Derek Larson, co-author on the study and assistant curator of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in northwest Alberta.
This is only the second dinosaur from Alberta named after Currie. He helped found the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in 1985 and is now a professor at the University of Alberta.