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New Dinosaur Discovery Helps To Explain The Rise Of Tyrannosaurus Rex


I'm Renee Montagne with news of how the mighty tyrannosaurus came to be. Scientists have discovered one of its early relatives, a species 25 million years older than the super predator and quite a bit meeker.

STEVE BRUSATTE: It kind of looks like a mini-me version of a T. rex, if you will.

MONTAGNE: That's paleontologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh. We reached him by Skype. He's the lead author of a paper published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about this cousin of the T. rex. It's called Timurlengia. He says the discovery, a skull from the Uzbekistan desert, shows a dinosaur the size of a horse on the cusp of becoming a giant.

BRUSATTE: It helps us understand how the king got its crown.

MONTAGNE: When Brusatte first saw the Timurlengia's head, he was with another researcher, one of his co-authors, in Russia.

BRUSATTE: And he pulled out a box from his desk - an old Soviet era box - and he asked me to open it up. And there was a lump of bone inside about the size of a grapefruit. And he asked me what I thought of it.

MONTAGNE: He thought a tiny tyrannosaur, something that could fill in a key dark period in the fossil record. And to investigate, the researchers gave the Timurlengia a CAT scan. Its head looked just like a T. rex with all its sophisticated senses.

BRUSATTE: Really, a set of superpowers that made them really good predators.

MONTAGNE: Like the T. rex, its smaller cousin has the same big brain and finely tuned hearing. Scientists used to think the T. rex only became intelligent after growing to its enormous size. This finding suggests it had to get smart before it could take its place as king. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.