from the world's big
A high-schooler's dig experience writes a new chapter in T-Rex history.
- The bones he found in New Mexico remained unidentified for 20 years.
- Suskityrannus hazelae turns out to be a diminutive predecessor to the "king lizard."
- The tiny terror is the ultimate "citizen scientist" victory.
Suskityrannus hazelae<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ2MzM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTMzOTM4OH0.eQZ64P3i8iXEEy__KW8LqkVILKFDWAJlvOCDKUNNMWk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C23%2C0%2C93&height=700" id="8153f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e05c4199b3f8dd7ea55ad3f3c04ae90" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A partial Suskityrannus skull is dwarfed by just the jawbone of a T-Rex. Image source: Virginia Tech News<p>When Nesbitt originally found the bones, they were among the remains of other prehistoric fish, turtles, lizards, crocodylians, and mammals. Because of this, for a time, the assumption was that he'd found a dromaeosaur (think Velociraptor). "Essentially, we didn't know we had a cousin of <em>Tyrannosaurus rex</em> for many years," Nesbitt says, regarding the new taxonomy. </p><p>While a typical <em>Tyrannosaus rex</em> crushed the scales at about nine tons, the <em>Suskityrannus </em>weighed in at a mere 45 and 90 lbs. It stood just three fee tall at the hip, and was about nine feet long. The specimen found by Nesbitt is believed to date back to the Cretaceous, about 92 million years ago, and is thought to have been at least three years old. Like its larger cousin, it was also a meat-eater, though it likely supped on much smaller prey than did T-Rex.</p><p>Nesbitt tells <a href="https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2019/05/science-mini_tyrannosaurus_rex_Suskityrannus_Nesbitt.html" target="_blank"><em>Virginia Tech News</em></a>, "<em>Suskityrannus</em> gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet." He adds, "It also belongs to a dinosaurian fauna that just precedes the iconic dinosaurian faunas in the latest Cretaceous that include some of the most famous dinosaurs, such as the Triceratops, predators like <em>Tyrannosaurus rex</em>, and duckbill dinosaurs like <em>Edmotosaurus</em>."</p><p>"<em>Suskityrannus</em> has a much more slender skull and foot than its later and larger cousins, the <em>Tyrannosaurus rex</em>," Nesbitt reports. A partial claw has been found, and though it's unclear how many fingers <em>Suskityrannus </em>had, yes, they're just as oddly small as those of T-Rex.</p><p>The animal's new name comes from the Zuni word for coyote, "Suski" — the Zuni Tribal Council granted permission to appropriate the term. The "hazelae" is a tribute to <a href="https://www.whitemountaindino.com/news/2016/11/11/zuni-basin-paleontological-project-20-year-anniversary" target="_blank">Hazel Wolfe</a>, who discovered the Zuni Basin site in 1996, and whose <a href="https://www.whitemountaindino.com/projects-bedford" target="_blank">support</a> has been crucial to the ongoing Zuni Basin Paleontology Project.</p>
Life-changer<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ2Mjk1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzY2MDMwOX0.RKRWiV071SdON7XqLtQmE3tOsXI2rghEOKJtOW_COZI/img.jpg?width=980" id="01ea6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="de0c34c261c13e63ed08936be54b3c83" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Nesbitt at the 1998 dig. Until 2006, his discovery was housed at the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Image source: Hazel Wolfe / Virginia Tech News<p>What became of discoverers? <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert_Jr7" target="_blank">Denton</a> is now an engineering geologist at <a href="http://www.geoconcepts-eng.com/" target="_blank">GeoConcepts Engineering</a>, and <a href="https://www.globalchange.vt.edu/sterling-nesbitt/" target="_blank">Nesbitt</a> is now a geoscientist at <a href="https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2019/05/science-mini_tyrannosaurus_rex_Suskityrannus_Nesbitt.html" target="_blank">Virginia Tech</a>.</p><p>"My discovery of a partial skeleton of <em>Suskityrannus</em> put me onto a scientific journey that has framed my career. I am now an assistant professor that gets to teach about Earth history," says Nesbitt.</p><p> Nesbitt eventually took possession of his find and carted it around with him as he moved between academic jobs until it was finally identified.</p>