Distant T-rex relative named ‘thunder reptile’ discovered in Argentina

14 Feb 2020

Illustration of the Tralkasaurus cuyi. Image: Ctys-Unlam

Evidence of a new carnivorous dinosaur species has been unearthed in Argentina, and was dubbed by researchers as the ‘thunder reptile’.

A distant relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex has been discovered in the plains of Patagonia, Argentina – albeit much smaller than the ferocious monster we’ve come to know from the big screen. Researchers from the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences and the scientific research group Conicet described the species, named Tralkasaurus cuyi, as carnivorous and smaller than most of its relatives at around four metres in length.

Previously discovered Tralkasaurus remains have measured between seven and 11 metres. Writing in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences, the researchers identified part of the dinosaur’s snout, which still contained some teeth. Also found at the site were its cervical ribs, part of the hip and the spine of its tail.

Speaking to a scientific agency at the Universidad Nacional de La Matanza, researcher Mauricio Cerroni said the creature’s name comes from Mapundungun, colloquially known as the Mapuche language, and means ‘thunder reptile’. ‘Cuyi’ refers to the place where it was found – the El Cuy plateau in the province of Rio Negro.

In addition to being a distant relative of the T-rex as part of the theropods dinosaur group, the new species can also be put alongside the Carnotaurus sastrei that reached 10 metres in length.

“The Tralkasaurus, because of being much smaller, reveals that the group of abelisaurus theropods encompassed a much wider ecological niche than previously thought,” Cerroni said.

Peculiarities discovered

Despite being smaller in size than its relatives, the dinosaur shares many of the same characteristics, such as being bipedal, having a short neck and four claws in each of its hind legs. Its arms were also very short in relation to its body and the bones of its limbs were light and hollow.

The researchers believe it’s possible that Tralkasaurus fed on the small herbivorous dinosaurs known as iguanodonts, which were found by the same team of palaeontologists in nearby locations, along with other species such as turtles and lizards.

“The importance of this new discovery is that it helps us define the ecological habits of both carnivorous dinosaurs and herbivores,” Cerroni said.

As the dinosaur’s snout was found to have a rough outer surface, it’s assumed that instead of having horns, it could have had small or poorly developed corneal structures. Also, a peculiarity was discovered in the bones of the middle region of this new species.

“There is an element that supports the rib that is very thin, something that has never been seen in any other group of carnivores,” Cerroni said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic