Scientists have discovered skeletons of the oldest known relatives of the tyrannosaur dinosaurs.
A team, co-led by James M Clark and Xing Xu, discovered two specimens of Guanlong wucaii in northwestern China. They lived around 159-154 million years ago in the Jurassic Period. The specimens are nearly complete and are extremely rare for this type of predatory dinosaur.
'The discovery of this new animal pushes the origin of the group containing T. rex further back in time and also shows that early tyrannosaurs had a much wider distribution than previously thought,' said Dr Paul Barrett, dinosaur expert at the Natural History Museum.
The crowned dragon
Guanlong wucaii - which means 'five-colored crown dragon' - has a striking crest running from its nose to the back of its head, something not seen in any tyrannosauroid but more often seen in birds, the descendants of dinosaurs. Guanlong may have used the fragile crest to make itself more attractive to potential mates.
Barrett adds 'the bizarre and spectacular crest on the snout of Guanlong is unprecedented among tyrannosaurs and raises the possibility that at least some of these predators relied heavily on visual displays for communication.'
This discovery will reveal a great deal about the early evolution of tyrannosauroids - the carnivorous family of dinosaurs - and of the coelurosaurs, the larger group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes tyrannosauroids and that also gave rise to the birds.