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What we now know as Alabama and Georgia was home 77 million years ago to a newly discovered dinosaur related to the Tyrannosaurus rex, reports a Columbus State University professor and coauthors in the March Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
David R. Schwimmer, of Columbus States Department of Chemistry and Geology, worked with the dinosaurs fossils collected in 1982 from a road cut in Montgomery County, Alabama. He had also worked with specimens that turn out to be from the same animal collected in southwest Georgia. He and colleagues named the new dinosaur Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis, which means the Appalachian lizard from Montgomery County.
We’ve been finding teeth and odd bones from this animal for 20 years, and its nice to finally have a name for it, Schwimmer said. A couple of regional museums will have to change the labels on their displays.
To study and write about Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis, Schwimmer collaborated with Thomas D. Carr of the Department of Biology at Carthage College and Thomas E. Williamson of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
The researchers report Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis was buried in 77.8 million-year-old carbonate muds at the bottom of a shallow sea after being carried out by currents before it was fossilized. The primary fossils of the species are stored in the McWane Center in Birmingham, Alabama.
Appalachiosaurus belongs to the lineage of giant meat-eaters called tyrannosaurs, and it was an early relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, Schwimmer said. It differed from T. rex in that it is a smaller animal, about 25 feet long. Appalachiosaurus also had slender upper jaws, which is different from the more advanced, deep-snouted western relatives such as Albertosaurus. This difference suggests that Appalachiosaurus shows us what the first tyrannosaurs looked like before they evolved massive upper jaws.
The tyrannosaur fossil record is thought to extend back to the late Jurassic, about 154 million years ago, a period from which only partial tyrannosaur fossils are known. Appalachiosaurus lived at a time when North America was divided by a seaway and Alabama was east of the seaway. Therefore, its presence in the east suggests that tyrannosaurs were widespread across North America before it was split into two subcontinents, about 100 million years ago.
For more information, contact David Schwimmer at 706 569-3028 or by e-mail at schwimmer_david@ColumbusState.edu