Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Crowned Tyrannosaur

Tyrannosaurus Rex may have been the 'king of the Dinosaurs', but it was one of it's ancestors that wore a crown.
Found in the China this early Tyrannosaurid from the Late Jurassic was named Guanlong (Crowned Dragon) because of it's distinctive crest.
Pencil drawing of the head of Guanlong wucaii by Renato Santos
Guanlong is the oldest relative of Tyrannosaurus yet found, older even than Dilong. It is therefore a very basal Tyrannosaurid with the slender build, long arms (with three-fingered hands), and a long narrow snout common to most Coelurosaurs.
It did however have a number of specializations that put it clearly in the Tyrannosaur clade. Like T. rex and all other Tyrannosaurs Guanlong had two types of teeth, with the smaller front teeth being shaped like scrapers. The foremost bone of the jaw was also very high, giving Guanlong the relatively blunt snout common to all Tyrannosaurs.

Unlike it's famous relative Guanlong was not the dominant predator in it's enviroment, being only 3 meters long and with a hip-height of no more than a metre.
It was still an active hunter despite sporting a fragile crest, which has lead some to suggest it may be an example of "the handicap principle": where males show their superiority by achieving success despite an obvious handicap. It may also have played a more directly role in courtship or species-recognition, in which case it was probably brightly coloured.

Feathers are an inferred attribute of Guanlong, no feathers were found with either of the skeletons that have so far been found. But because feathers were found with the later Dilong and are found in many other groups of Coelurosaurs making it extremely probable that Guanlong also sported a coat of (proto)feathers.

With it's distinctive crest and coat of feathers Guanlong must have made quite a distinctive appearance.

[Images via Wikipedia]

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