'Reaper Of Death', Cousin Of T. Rex Discovered

There's a bad new dinosaur in the fossil record, and paleontologists believe it may be a direct ancestor of the dreaded Tyrannosaurus rex. Scientists announced on Monday the discovery of a novel tyrannosaur that roamed the planet during the Cretaceous Period 80 million years ago. Just in case you were wondering if the new dinosaur on the block was friendly or not, researchers dubbed the monstrous fossil thanatotheristes degrootorum, a Greek name that translates to "Reaper of Death". Ten points for the first heavy metal band to incorporate this one into an album cover.

Darla Zelenitsky, assistant professor of Dinosaur Paleobiology at the University of Calgary, explains the evocative moniker: "We chose a name that embodies what this tyrannosaur was as the only known large apex predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death. The nickname has come to be Thanatos." Researchers peg the new fossil at around 79 million years old, which means Thanatos terrorized Pangea a cool 13 million years before its famous descendant the T. rex came onto the scene.

A rare find

Jared Voris, a PhD student at the University of Calgary, made the miraculous discovery. The physical fossil was found by a hiker in Hays, Alberta. The Thanatos fossil has the long, deep snout characteristic of other early tyrannosaur species that roamed North America during the Cretaceous. Paleontologists attribute regional differences in skeletal morphology (skull shape) to differences in local diet. Voris explained how he arrived at the conclusion that Thanatos was an altogether new species of tyrannosaur: "Thanatotheristes can be distinguished from all other tyrannosaurs by numerous characteristics of the skull, but the most prominent are vertical ridges that run the length of the upper jaw."

Aside from claiming the title of oldest known tyrannosaur, Thanatos is also the first new tyrannosaur discovered in fifty years. Zelenitsky explains that large carnivorous dinosaur fossils are relatively rare compared to their herbivorous cousins because of the position they occupied atop the food chain. Alberta, Canada has been a hotbed for tyrannosaur fossil discovery. Thanatos joins the ranks of Tyrannosaurus rex, Albertosaurus and Daspletosaurus, the last novel tyrannosaur discovered in Canada.