'Reaper of death': Student discovers new Tyrannosaurus rex relative

DRUMHELLER, Alberta, Canada (CTV Network/CNN) - A Ph.D. student studying dinosaur bones made the discovery of a lifetime: a previously-unseen type of dinosaur.

The new species name is Thanatotheristes, Greek for "reaper of death," Degrootorum. The findings and the name of the new tyrannosaur are published in the Cretaceous Research journal. (Source: CTV Network/U. of Calgary/CNN)

The University of Calgary student wasn't on a remote archaeological dig. He found the unique bones stashed in a museum's storage room.

Jared Voris has spent years in the collections storage room at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller.

He is looking at all the tyrannosaur bones to learn more about the evolution of the species. He came across six boxes that were put here 10 years ago.

He noticed vertical ridges on the skull fragments that ran the length of the upper jaw.

"That's just one of the characteristics that we initially saw and said, 'OK, this is something unique. We haven't seen this before in other Albertan tyrannosaurs so this must mean it's a unique feature to a unique species,'" Voris said.

Voris' Ph.D. supervisor Darla Zelenitsky, says it's rare to find a tyrannosaur, because there weren't many around millions of years ago.

"They were the apex predators of the eco system, and the nature of the food chain relative to plant-eating dinosaurs, there just weren't many of these apex predators," Zelenitsky said.

Curator of Dinosaur Paleoecology Francois Therrien says the specimen was discovered by a southern Alberta farmer named John de Groot in 2008 and entered into the museum collection two years later.

By looking at the rock where the fossils were found, Therrien says they're roughly 79 million years old - 12 million older than T-rex.

"There's very few places in the world where you can brag that you have five different species of tyrannosaurs," he said. "Most places, like in the States, if you have one, two, maybe three tyrannosaurs, you're very lucky. Here in Alberta, we already have five."

Voris said the new specie’s name is Thanatotheristes Degrootorum, Greek for “reaper of death.” His findings and the name of the new tyrannosaur are published in the Cretaceous Research journal.

The team plans to go this summer to the original site where the bones were found to see what else they can find. They will look for other parts of the skeleton but also search the rest of the province where other rock faces of the same time period are exposed, to see if they can find any more specimens.

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