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New Dinosaur species unearthed!

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vincent    155
When dinosaurs first roamed the Earth, they had fast legs to chase prey and sharp teeth to eat meat. Then some of them became vegetarians, and scientists could never figure out where the meat eaters stopped and the plant eaters began.

Now paleontologists in Utah say they have found the missing link in a new species of feathered dinosaur. 2002263328.gif

Falcarius utahensis, whose name means "sickle maker from Utah," appeared about 125 million years ago. The creature, with 4-inch claws on its outsized forefeet, measured about 12 feet from its snout to the tip of its long, skinny tail. It stood just over 3 feet tall at the hip and could apparently reach about five feet off the ground with its long neck to munch leaves or fruit, said Utah state paleontologist James Kirkland.

It had the built-for-speed legs of meat eaters but was developing the bigger belly of plant eaters. It had already lost the serrated teeth needed for tearing flesh; those were replaced with the smaller, duller vegetarian variety.

"It's the strangest looking dinosaur you can imagine," said Matthew Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. "It's as if you sewed the dinosaur together from pieces from other dinosaurs."

The discovery appears in today's edition of Nature.

Kirkland said in a telephone interview that he first became aware of Falcarius in 1999, when colleagues showed him a box of bone fragments they had bought at a fossil show in Tucson, Ariz.

The bones supposedly came from private land, Kirkland said; it is illegal to excavate fossils on public land without a permit.

Kirkland said he tried "over a number of years" to determine the location of the site and finally got directions from an acquaintance of the excavator, Lawrence Walker.

When Kirkland still couldn't find it, Walker, anxious to see his discovery properly recognized, acknowledged his role and guided him in.

In rugged public land about 140 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Kirkland found the jumbled remains of "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of Falcarius embedded in a 2-acre stretch of pebbly, 120-million-year-old mudstone on a mesa top once washed by the waters of an ancient spring.

"Ninety-nine percent of the bones were the same animal," Kirkland said. But the site offered few clues about how so many Falcarius died suddenly in the same place.

"Personally, I favor poison," Kirkland said, either from botulism from dead animals in the water or "some kind of microbial bloom." The spring might also have belched a cloud of carbon dioxide, methane or sulfur dioxide, asphyxiating the herd.

"It was pretty exciting," Kirkland said, recalling he turned to Walker, warning him "that I wasn't going to call the FBI, but if they call me up, I'll have to tell them."

Sure enough, federal agents approached Kirkland as soon as he asked for a permit.

Walker eventually pleaded guilty to theft of government property, paid a $15,000 fine and spent five months in prison.

Kirkland's team began excavating in 2001.

Early dinosaurs appeared in the United States about 210 million years ago. Most ate meat and stayed that way, but over time others became herbivores.

The Falcarius was a member of an intermediate group, the feathered therizinosaurs (pronounced THAY-rih-ZY-no-sores), a birdlike dinosaur that started out as a meat eater but then slowly switched to plants only.

"We don't know if [Falcarius] was an omnivore like us, eating plants and meat, or just plants" said Scott Sampson, chief curator of the Utah Museum of Natural History and study co-author. "But it tells us about the shift."

The key features were the arms and claws, more powerful than those of many carnivores but not big or blocky enough to support a large, plant-eating quadruped.

"If it wrapped its hands around your face it'd go all the way around," Kirkland said. "It probably couldn't eat you, but it could rip your face off."

Seattletimes.com

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AgEnTsMiTh    0

Moved Here

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qdave    159

you dont get to see such news everyday. i wonder how much more various creatures there were which we will never find out about.

btw it looks like it has feathers.

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Hypoxiaicon    0

Nice find Ripgut, ill give this a read when im back from walking my dog.

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insanekiwi    0

nice find vincent. thanks for those science news! :)

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vincent    155
Falcarius utahensis, whose name means "sickle maker from Utah
Mormon dinosaur? :huh:

naw seriously this name kills me, and don't they usually give them more of a scientific latin name?

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