Perot Museum Paleontologists Discover Pygmy Tyrannosaur That Roamed Ancient Arctic Lands Of Alaska

Mar 13, 2014, 09:12 ET from Perot Museum of Nature and Science

DALLAS, March 13, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Paleontologists from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas have discovered a new genus and species of a tyrannosaur that once roamed the ancient Arctic lands of Northern Alaska.  Compared to its cousin Tyrannosaurus rex, this new animal, which has been formally named Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, is a pygmy. The first name honors the Inupiat people whose traditional territory includes the land where these bones were found, and the second name is in honor of Dallas entrepreneur and philanthropist Forrest Hoglund, whose extraordinary leadership helped raise $185 million to build the new Perot Museum, which opened in late 2012. 

The scientific paper describing the find – entitled "A Diminutive New Tyrannosaur from the Top of the World" – has been posted today on the prestigious science journal PLOS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed, open-access online journal that features reports on primary research from all scientific disciplines. Dallas paleontologists Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ph.D., the Perot Museum's curator of earth sciences, and Ronald S. Tykoski, Ph.D., fossil preparator at the Museum, co-authored the report. To read their entire manuscript and view renderings, go to

"The 'pygmy tyrannosaur' alone is really cool because it tells us something about what the environment was like in the ancient Arctic," said Fiorillo.  "But what makes this discovery even more exciting is that Nanuqsaurus hoglundi also tells us about the biological richness of the ancient polar world during a time when the Earth was very warm compared to today."

Fiorillo, who was recently named a Fellow to the internationally renowned Explorers Club in New York City due to his stature as a polar dinosaur authority, discovered  what would eventual be known as the Nanuqsaurus hoglundi  in 2006 while excavating Alaska's North Slope  in the Prince Creek Formation.  The excavation site – about 13 x 13 feet in size – is located almost 400 miles northwest of Fairbanks and many miles above the Arctic Circle on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The research was funded by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.

The Nanuqsaurus, which loosely translates to "polar bear lizard," is a pint-sized cousin to one of the most revered dinosaurs of them all – the Tyrannosaurus rex.   While a typical adult T. rex might have been 40 feet in length and weighed 7-to-8 tons, Fiorillo and Tykoski estimate the diminutive yet fully grown Nanuqsaurus would be approximately 25 feet long and weigh 1,000 lbs.

The two paleontologists acknowledged they had a new species and genus – which happens rarely – after running analyses "every which way imaginable" and realizing the new animal didn't match any of the tyrannosaur species known at the time.

Tykoski, who handled the meticulous preparation work amidst a dusty paleo lab in the Perot Museum's Fair Park location, saw that he had pieces from a small but adult carnivore when he found the top of a skull section, the tooth-bearing front part of the lower jaw, and part of an upper jawbone of the face, called the maxilla.  What surprised him most was finding a section of the maxilla which showed distinctive sockets along its edge that are only present in adults of some advanced tyrannosaur species.

Fiorillo and Tykoski assert that the reduced stature might be attributed to Alaska's ancient climate, the isolation of the area, and the limited food resources at the time.

Fiorillo and Tykoski decided Forrest Hoglund was an obvious choice for the naming because of his career working in science-related industries and his vast philanthropic efforts.  Also, Hoglund is credited with propelling the Perot Museum to exceed its $185-million campaign goal in November 2011, a full year before the museum building opened.

"By naming Nanuqsaurus hoglundi in honor of Forrest, we're also paying tribute to him and the Hoglund family for being the Perot Museum's biggest cheerleaders, one of our most generous donors, and for Forrest being one of the best fundraisers ever," said Nicole G. Small, Eugene McDermott chief executive officer.

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SOURCE Perot Museum of Nature and Science