The small tyrannosauroids would have stood 3 feet tall and measured about 9 feet in length. The typical weight for a full-grown Tyrannosaurus rex is roughly 9 tons.
Although the researchers don't know what Suskityrannus ate, the carnivorous dinosaur probably hunted small animals.
Suskityrannus hazelae "is a key link between the enormous bone-crunching dinosaurs like T. rex and the smaller species they evolved from", said Dr Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh. Sterling Nesbitt, a paleontologist in the Department of Geosciences at the Virginia Tech College of Science. What makes this new dinosaur special, however, is that it's more closely related to T. rex and other tyrannosaurids than to other early Cretaceous tyrannosauroids.
The VT professor was a 16-year-old in 1998 when he discovered a partial skeleton of the new dinosaur in New Mexico.
"Suskityrannus hazelae has a much more slender skull and foot than its later and larger cousins, Tyrannosaurus rex", Dr. Nesbitt said.
They represent a point in the evolution from the smallest tyrannosaurs to the largest ones that peaked just before dinosaurs went extinct.
The name Suskityrannus hazelae is derived from "Suski", the Zuni Native American tribe word for "coyote", and from the Latin word "tyrannus" meaning king and "hazelae" for Hazel Wolfe, whose support made possible many successful fossil expeditions in the Zuni Basin.
A full-scale model of Suskityrannus hazelae is on display at the Arizona Museum of Natural History.
Suskityrannus hazelae is thought to have existed 92 million years ago, about 20 million years before T. rex.
Tyrannosaurs were a diverse group of predatory dinosaurs, inhabiting what is now North America, on what was then an island continent known as Laramidia.
A decent portion of the skeleton was represented in the two specimens, but some parts of its skull, hands, and feet were missing. "Following Sterling out to see his dinosaur, I was amazed at how complete a skeleton was lying exposed at the site", Kirkland said. The most famous Tyrannosaur - and quite possibly the most famous dinosaur of them all - was the Tyrannosaurus Rex, most commonly known as T-Rex.
Prior to Nesbitt's discovery, Robert Denton, now a senior geologist with Terracon Consultants, discovered a partial skull of the new dinosaur in 1997.
"We did not know these fossils represented a tyrannosauroid for more than a decade after they were discovered", Nesbitt told Gizmodo in an email.
At the time, experts thought he might have found a dromaeosaur such as a Velociraptor.
The Arizona Museum of Natural History will permanently house the Suskityrannus fossils. After 2006, Nesbitt brought the fossils with him through various postings as student and researcher in New York, Texas, Illinois, and now Blacksburg. "I am now an assistant professor that gets to teach about Earth history".
During that period, many dinosaurs evolved into supersized versions.
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