You probably thought we were all done learning anything new about dinosaurs. “I get it; they were big huge monsters and several of them were in a movie or nine I saw.” But, oh, how wrong you are. Was your mind blown when it was determined that most dinosaurs had feathers? Mine sure was. They had to invent a reason why the Jurassic World creatures didn’t have any. It’s amazing how much scientists are still learning about these millions-of-years-old bird-lizards, and a study has now discovered a missing link for the most famous dinosaur ever.
Not only is Tyrannosaurus rex just a cool-looking animal, it was also the apex predator in the late Cretaceous period. Scientists have noted the Tyrant King’s large brain and ability to hear at great distances, but they’ve also figured out the creature evolved over millions of years from a horse-sized ancestor that wasn’t so smart. Now, a new in-betweener species, Timurlengia euotica (which means “well-eared,” you know, that common phrase), has been discovered that is both the size of a horse and has the larger brain and listening skills.
The key fossil in this case is a recently discovered grapefruit-sized piece of skull, a braincase that a new paper to appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says proves the senses evolved before the size did. The dig was done in the Bissekty Formation in Uzbekistan. The 90 million-year-old bone fragment fills in a gap between the 100-million-year-old “average Joe” smaller dinosaur, and the 80-million-year-old giant smart guy.
“Our study is the first to show that the sophisticated brain and hearing of big tyrannosaurs evolved in smaller-bodied species, long before tyrannosaurs got giant,” study coauthor Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, told ScienceNews. He later adds the better senses presumably led to greater hunting ability, opening the door for evolution.
The studied analyzed the fragment of Timurlengia brain against a database of other tyrannosaur fossils and found that it matches all the tell-tale signs of late-Cretaceous T. rex, just smaller. Particularly telling was the long cochlea, a part of the inner-ear, that allowed the animals to have better sensitivity to low-frequency sounds, like the rumbling of plant-eaters very far away.
What’s scarier? A giant thing that can hunt you anywhere, or a thing the size of a horse that can hunt you anywhere? I feel like it’s a toss-up, really.
What do you think of Timurlengia euotica? Can we call it Tim? Tim the Dinosaur? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Universal Pictures
Images: Drawings, Todd Marshall/Fossils, S. BRUSATTE ET AL/PNAS 2016
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!