Discovery of cat-sized dino suggests mini dinosaurs prowled North America

March 17th, 2009 - 12:36 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, March 17 (ANI): New analysis of the fossil of a dinosaur that was found in 1982 in Canada has suggested that it was smaller than a modern day housecat, which indicates that there might have been many mini dinosaurs prowling the continent of North America.

The analysis was done by Nick Longrich, a paleontology research associate in the University of Calgarys Department of Biological Sciences and University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie.

They describe a new genus of carnivorous dinosaur that was smaller than a modern housecat and likely hunted insects, small mammals and other prey through the swamps and forests of the late Cretaceous period in southeastern Alberta, Canada.

Weighing approximately two kilograms and standing about 50 centimetres tall, Hesperonychus elizabethae resembled a miniature version of the famous bipedal predator Velociraptor, to which it was closely related.

Hesperonychus ran about on two legs and had razor-like claws and an enlarged sickle-shaped claw on its second toe.

It had a slender build and slender head with dagger-like teeth.

It was half the size of a domestic cat and probably hunted and ate whatever it could for its size insects, mammals, amphibians and maybe even baby dinosaurs, Longrich said.

It probably spent most of its time close to the ground searching through the marshes and forests that characterized the area at the end of the Cretaceous, he added.

Fossilized remains of Hesperonychus, which means western claw, were collected in 1982 from several locations including Dinosaur Provincial Park.

The most important specimen, a well-preserved pelvis, was recovered by Alberta paleontologist Elizabeth Nicholls, after which the species is named.

The fossils remained unstudied for 25 years until Longrich came across them in the University of Albertas collection in 2007.

Longrich and Currie focused on fossilized claws and a well-preserved pelvis for their description.

The claws were thought to come from juveniles. They were just so small. But, when we studied the pelvis, we found the hip bones were fused, which would only have happened once the animal was fully grown, Longrich said.

Hesperonychus is currently the smallest dinosaur known from North America. But, its discovery just emphasizes how little we actually know, and it raises the possibility that there are even smaller ones out there waiting to be found, he added.

Judging by the amount of material that was collected, we believe animals the size of Hesperonychus must have been quite common on the landscape, he further added. (ANI)

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