Changing Planet

“America’s Smallest Dinosaur” Uncovered in Canada


Illustration by Nick Longrich/Courtesy University of Calgary

A bizarre, chicken-size dinosaur that had tweezer-like jaws and stumpy but powerful forearms has been found in Alberta, Canada. It is the smallest dinosaur species ever found in North America. Researchers believe it may have preyed on insects.

It looked “like an animal created by Dr. Seuss,” said Nick Longrich, a paleontology research associate in the department of biological sciences at the University of Calgary.

The remains of the Cretaceous “anteater” were found during a dig for Albertosaurus fossils in 2002.

new-dino-2.jpgLongrich studied the 70 million-year-old bones after finding them among the fossils from that dig in storage in a museum. “You can really find amazing things if you just keep looking at fossils we already have sitting in museum collections,” he said.

Called Albertonykus borealis, the slender bird-like creature is a new member of the family Alvarezsauridae and is one of only a few such fossils found outside of South America and Asia, scientists said.

Illustration by Nick Longrich

Courtesy University of Calgary

In a paper published in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, Longrich and University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie describe the specimen and explain how it it likely specialized in consuming termites by using its small but powerful forelimbs to tear into logs.

“This appears to be the smallest dinosaur yet discovered in North America.”

new-dino-3.jpg“Proportionately, the forelimbs are shorter than in a Tyrannosaurus but they are powerfully-built, so they seem to have served a purpose,” Longrich said. “They are built for digging but too short to burrow, so we think they may have been used to rip open logs in search of insects.”

Nick Longrich with his drawing and a piece of fossilized, insect-eaten wood.

Photo by Ken Bendiktsen, University of Calgary

A specialist in studying dinosaur-era ancestors of birds, Longrich argued in 2006 that the earliest known ancestor of birds, a feathered creature called Archaeopteryx, likely flew with wings on all four limbs after examining fossils originally collected in Germany in 1861.


National Geographic News related stories:

T. Rex Protein “Confirms” Bird-Dinosaur Link

“Missing Link” Dinosaur Discovered in Montana

Giant Turkey-Like Dinosaur Found in Montana


Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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