New dinosaur surprises paleontologists

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Chicago, Illinois - A new 13-foot dinosaur has been discovered in Utah. It's a bit of a surprise: despite nine-inch claws like scythes, the creature was a herbivore, and it appears to have died a long way out to sea.

The dinosaur - Northronychus graffami - was a herbivore, despite belonging to the same group of predatory meat eaters as T Rex and Velociraptor.

The discovery indicates that carnivorous dinosaurs such as Velociraptor may actually have evolved from herbivores, says Lindsay Zanno from the Field Museum, Chicago, who lead the team behind the discovery.
 
By studying the feeding habits of a selection of these predatory' dinosaur species, Zanno concluded that incorporating plants into their diet might have given them the edge over competitors by making them adaptable to a wider range of food sources.

"We were able to use the anatomy of this animal as a template for researching the fragmentary remains of other therizinosaurs and gain a better understanding of their evolutionary history" says Zanno, which suggests that predatory villains' such as Velociraptor could have evolved from "less fearsome plant-eating ancestors".

Dave Graffam, who discovered the first bones and after whom the species is named, was especially surprised to find the creature as he was excavating marine rocks which would have been almost 100 miles from the nearest shore line. He believes the creature must have become "stranded at sea and struggled for a few days before drowning and sinking to the bottom".

N.Graffami's burial at sea made it easier to date the specimen, due to the presence of marine shellfish fossils, says Paleontologist Alan Titus who has dated the dinosaur to almost exactly 92.5 million years ago.

The discovery is described in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.