Paleontologists have discovered a dinosaur cousin ofthat suggests the ferocious lizard came from far less terrifying ancestors. The newly named dinky dino is called Suskityrannus hazelae; the first part of the name comes from the Zuni Native American word for "coyote," as its specimen skeletons were found in New Mexico's Zuni Basin way back in 1997 and 1998.
"Essentially, we didn't know we had a cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex for many years," Virginia Tech geosciences professor Sterling Nesbitt, who attended the 1998 dig while a junior in high school, said in a statement.
He says that the team first thought it might have found the remains of a Velociraptor, the vicious lizard species that terrorized many of our nightmares in the 1990s thanks to the Jurassic Park movie franchise. As the years went by, scientists began to learn more about the existence of T-rex cousins. The connection between the specimens and its notorious descendant is laid out in a paper in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The two-legged mini rex is thought to have stood about three feet tall at the hip, leaning its long snout forward and trailed by a tail that would have made it about nine feet long in all. Still, scientists believe the lizard probably weighed in at only 45 to 90 pounds (20 - 41 kg), comparable to a large dog.
That makes this coyote-rex quite the tiny version of Tyrannosaurus, the tyrant king of the dinosaurs, which weighed roughly nine tons full grown, even with its silly, shrimpy arms. But Suskityrannus actually predates T. rex by several million years.
"Suskityrannus gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet," Nesbitt said.
That evolutionary path to world domination would include an awful lot of growth. A single Suskityrannus would be about equal to the size of a fully grown T. rex skull.