Based on the analysis of a tiny fossilized jawbone, paleontologists believe that they have identified a new dinosaur species that once lived in the Arctic. The tip of the jawbone, which measured just 14 millimetres in length, was discovered in the northern part of Alaska.
The fossilized jaw had one black erupted tooth and was unearthed on the bank of the Colville River which is located close to the Arctic Ocean (just 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle). In fact, this site is part of the Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska which is where the biggest amount of polar dinosaur fossils from 70 million years ago has ever been found.
The jawbone belonged to a group of predatory dinosaurs called dromaeosaurid that includes the Velociraptor which was made famous in the movie Jurassic Park. The tiny jawbone came from a very young dinosaur chick which, based on the early development of its bones, would have been born at a nearby location. This also suggests that this new species of dinosaur would have not only lived, but mated and nested in the Arctic about 70 million years ago when the temperatures there were warmer than they are today. While the dinosaur chicks would have been about the same size as a small puppy, the adults grew between 6 and 9 feet in height.
It has been long believed that dinosaurs migrated from Asia to North America by travelling through the Arctic but up until recently, not much evidence has been found to prove that they resided there permanently. Tony Fiorillo, who is a paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas and the chief curator of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, explained, “If juveniles from these dinosaurs are being found, it means that these animals had to spend a great deal of time mating and nesting in these sites.” He went on to say, “A young chick for these small dinosaurs could probably not migrate long distance, giving indirect indication that these animals were probably perennial residents of the ancient Arctic.”
What makes it so hard to study these dinosaurs is that their bones were very delicate due to the colder and dark winter months in the Arctic, so finding one that’s well enough preserved to study has been an extremely hard task. Alessandro Chiarenza, who is a paleontologist at University College London as well as the lead author of the study, explained this further, “What is extraordinary about this finding is that not only bones from carnivorous dinosaurs are rarely found in these sites, but discovering one from a very young individual, which can easily get broken up, destroyed and then not entering the fossil record is like finding a needle in the haystack.”
As of right now, however, this potentially new species of dromaeosaurid has not yet been officially identified until a complete skeleton is found and analyzed before the final confirmation. A picture of the tiny fossilized jaw can be seen here.