A small yet mighty new dinosaur was recently discovered thanks to the work of a Raleigh paleontologist and her team.
The new dinosaur — Moros intrepidus, which means “harbinger of doom” after the Greek god Moros — is a relative of the much larger Tyrannosaurus rex, providing a gap on how the dinosaurs evolved over time.
Standing just 3 or 4 feet tall at its hip, the dinosaur was discovered in Utah by Lindsay Zanno and her team. Other members of the paleontologist team include Aurore Canoville, Ryan Tucker, Terry Gates, Haviv Avrahami and Peter Makovicky.
“Moros was lightweight and exceptionally fast,” Zanno said in a news release. “These adaptations, together with advanced sensory capabilities, are the mark of a formidable predator. It could have easily run down prey, while avoiding confrontation with the top predators of the day.”
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Zanno — the head of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences — unveiled the dinosaur fossils at the museum Thursday afternoon. She was the lead author of the academic paper outlining the research and is a paleontologist at N.C. State University. The team discovered most of the dinosaur’s right leg and some teeth that could also belong to a Moros.
Many of the attendees were children, wide-eyed and arms raised to ask questions about the new dinosaur. Holding a blue “long-neck” dinosaur, 5-year-old Kyra Ornellas said she thinks learning about dinosaurs is “pretty cool” and she was impressed that Moros could run fast.
“It can run fast almost like my running shoes,” she said.
Her mother, Chloe Ornellas, said they are members of the museum and enjoyed being one of the firsts to see the dinosaur fossils.
“My daughter loves dinosaurs,” said Chloe Ornellas. “And I think it’s a great opportunity to see how paleontologists work and to see the excitement of science and (excitement) of unveiling a new dinosaur.”
Moros lived about 96 million years ago during the Cretaceous period and is the oldest Cretaceous tyrannosaur species discovered in North America, according to a news release. The remains of its closest relatives have been found in parts of Asia, Zanno said.
Despite being made popular by the movie “Jurassic Park,” tyrannosaurs, like the T. rex, didn’t rule the dinosaur landscape as Apex predators until the Cretaceous period — about 81 million years ago. The tyrannosaur fossils found throughout North America were smaller and “primitive” during the Jurassic period — about 150 million years — and hunted by much larger allosaurus, she said.
The discovery of Moros has helped bridge the fossil gap between the two periods, leading scientists to believe it only took “15 million years to rise to power,” according to the news release.
“When and how quickly tyrannosaurs went from wallflower to prom king has been vexing paleontologists for a long time,” Zanno said in a news release. “The only way to attack this problem was to get out there and find more data on these rare animals.”
The leg bones of Moros were found in the same area where Zanno found “Siats meekerorum, a giant meat-eating carcharodontosaur that lived in the same time period.” Other fossils, including a nest of eggs, have also been discovered by the team in the Utah badlands in the past decade. The Moros fossils were first spotted in 2012 but it took years to excavate them and even longer to compare those bones to other fossils to confirm they were, indeed, a new dinosaur.
Fran Puryear and her 12-year-old son Jack have been big fans of dinosaurs and Zanno for years. Jack — who goes by “Jurassic Jack” — event went out on a dig site in North Dakota last year. He’s wanted to be a paleontologist since he was just a toddler.
“The field is still open to discovery,” he said. “You can still find new things. And it’s the sheer joy of it.”
He was surprised at the size of Moros, originally thinking it may be the size of a chicken instead of a deer.
“I love to watch the joy of him listening,” Fran Puryear said. “The whole time he was sitting there going ‘wow.’ It was amazing. I got him out of school early for him to come.”