A new species of tyrannosaur has been discovered in Canada and it’s been nicknamed the “Reaper of Death”. Located in Drumheller, Alberta, is the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology which houses one of the biggest dinosaur displays on Earth.
There are still many fossils in the museum’s storage room that have yet to be put on display and that’s where the discovery of the “Reaper of Death” began. Jared Voris, who is a PhD student at the University of Calgary, began studying the stored tyrannosaur bones and that’s when he found that one set of bones were quite different from the previous four tyrannosaur species known to the province.
“I realized that there were features that made it completely unique from all those other ones so that was what instigated the discovery of this new species was just kind of comparing those to all the other tyrannosaur fossils we have found here in the past,” Voris explained, adding, “So we started to work on identifying that as the new species which we recently named as thanatotheristes degrootorum.” The first part of its name came from Thanatos (the Greek god of death) and theristes (the one who reaps or harvests) – aka the Reaper of Death. The second half was named after John De Groot who found the specimen.
Voris said that there were vertical ridges that ran along the top of the upper jaw which was quite unique in comparison to other tyrannosaurs. De Groot, who is a farmer and paleontology enthusiast, said in a statement, “The jawbone was an absolutely stunning find,” adding, “We knew it was special because you could clearly see the fossilized teeth.” De Groot discovered the skull fragments in 2010 while he was hiking close to the Hamlet of Hays in the southern part of Alberta.
Darla Zelenitsky, who is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and who is also supervising Voris for his PhD, said that finding a new species of tyrannosaur is a rare occurrence. “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,” she explained.
She went on to say that it’s been 50 years since a new tyrannosaur species had been named and thanatotheristes degrootorum is the first species to be named by a student. Pictures of the fossil can be seen here.
Francois Therrien, who is the curator of dinosaur paleoecology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and who was also part of the team who went to the site where the fossil was discovered in 2010, said, “So we went to the site and measured the stratigraphic section to describe the rock record where the specimen is from in order to determine the age of what that specimen was,” adding, “That’s how we discovered that the specimen was much older than all the previous dinosaurs from Alberta.”
They found that the fossil dates back to approximately 79 million years ago which makes it about 12 million years older than the Tyrannosaurus rex. “It’s older than T-Rex but it seems like this was North America’s T-Rex at the time,” Voris explained, “It was a species that was distinct from T-Rex and it wasn’t until several million years later that T-Rex came to North America, probably from Asia, and invaded and replaced all the tyrannosaurs that we see in North America from that time range.”