Paleontologists sifting through fossils in an Alaska museum have discovered evidence of a dinosaur never before found in the near-Arctic — a type of large, leggy theropod called an ornithomimosaur.
The name means “bird-mimic lizard,” and scientists say it lived up to its name, as the new specimen “bear[s] a strong resemblance to living ostriches.”
The newfound dino was a tall, largely toothless omnivore with strong legs capable of running up to 40 kilometers an hour, they note.
And although evidence of ornithomimosaurs has been found on most of the modern continents, none has ever been detected in Alaska before.
The discovery was made at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Anchorage, where earth science curator Pat Druckenmiller and Florida State University paleontologist Gregory Erickson were plying through the museum’s collections to document its holdings.
When they came across a large, unidentified leg bone — which had been excavated years earlier on Alaska’s North Slope — they speculated that it could either have belonged to ornithomimosaur, of which there had been no previous record in Alaska, or a juvenile tyrannosaurid. [See photos of a recently discovered T. rex fossil: “‘Magnificent T. Rex’ Found on Montana Ranch, Museum Reports (With Pictures)“]
Analysis of the fossil’s bone tissue showed that it was fully developed at the time of death, which ruled out the juvenile tyrannosaur hypothesis.
Further study secured its ranks among the bird-mimics.
The duo documents their discovery, with colleague Akinobu Watanabe, in the September issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. [Read about another recent dinosaur discovery in the Last Frontier: “‘Ugly’ Teenage Ceratops Discovered in Alaska“]
Akinobu Watanabe, Gregory Erickson, & Patrick Druckenmiller (2013). An ornithomimosaurian from the Upper Cretaceous Prince Creek Formation of Alaska Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2013.770750