In the field of paleontology, sometimes construction contractors can wind up doing some of the digging for you. That’s exactly what happened when excavators in the quickly developing region of Ganzhou, China bumped into the remains of a brand new tyrannosaurid species that has been identified as Qianzhousaurus sinensis in the journal Nature Communications. The new species is also being called “Pinocchio Rex” due to its snout, which is much longer than those of similarly sized dinosaurs. Literary references aside, the remains of this snout may also may also solve a taxonomic predicament surrounding the remains of two previously identified tyrannosaurids.
Though belonging to the same group as the theme-park-stomping T. rex, the Q. sinensis was significantly smaller than said beast. While T. rex stretched out to 42 feet, Q. sinensis only made it to a still-pretty-huge length of 29 feet. Since both of these killers were probably after different sized meals, they likely coexisted pretty peacefully when they hunted the prey-packed landscape of the Late Cretaceous (66 million years ago).
This is is not the first long nosed tyrannosaur to be unearthed in Asia. Two specimens of a genus called Alioramus from Mongolia have also been identified with elongated snouts. However, since these two sets of remains came from juveniles, it wasn’t clear if their long noses were kept through adulthood or were just awkward oversized features they’d eventually grow out of. This meant that scientists couldn’t say with certainty that long nose tyrannosaurids constituted their own specific group of animals. The fact that this adult Q. sinensis also has this long snout means that paleontologists are now confident that Alioramus and Qianzhousaurus are representatives of a distinct long-snouted group.
“This is the slam dunk we needed: the long-snouted tyrannosaurs were real”, co-author of the study Steve Brusatte told BBC News.
So why the long face? What was this newly official group of nosey dinos using their longer snouts for? Scientists are currently creating computer models of Q. sinensis to see what type of Late Cretaceous prey it would have been targeting. Present day long snouted animals like crocodilians and some species of storks are skilled at catching fast moving prey like fish, so it’s possible that these tyrannosaurs would have hunted similarly speedy creatures. Since they didn’t have the super powerful jaws of Tyrannosaurs rex, it probably wasn’t targeting larger dinosaurs that would have required some bone crushing to subdue.
For another pint-sized tyrannosaur, check out Nanuqsaurus huglundi, an arctic species that may have developed its small stature from a special form of island dwarfism.