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Meet the T. rex cousin who you could literally look down on

The new dinosaur is called Suskityrannus hazelae.

(Andrey Atuchin/Virginia Tech via AP)
(Andrey Atuchin/Virginia Tech via AP)

Scientists have identified an early cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex, a pipsqueak that only reached the height of a toddler.

If it stretched up its duck-billed head, an adult human maybe “would be looking at it in the eye”, said Sterling Nesbitt, a palaeontologist at Virginia Tech, who discovered the dinosaur.

He found a set of its bones in 1998 when he was 16, while serving as a volunteer on a dig in New Mexico with a famed palaeontologist, but for about two decades, scientists were not certain what it was, until other small cousins of T. rex were discovered.

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Sterling Nesbitt with the fossilised bones (Erin Williams/Virginia Tech/AP)

“The small group of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs would give rise to some of the biggest predators that we’ve ever seen,” said Mr Nesbitt, lead author of a study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The new dinosaur is called Suskityrannus hazelae, named after the Zuni word for coyote. It dates back 92 million years, about 20 million years before the T. rex stomped the Earth.

The newly discovered cousin — which was three times longer than it was tall — weighed between 45lb and 90lb, almost nothing compared with the nine-ton king of the dinosaurs.

Suskityrannus hazalae is not the first or even smallest of the Tyrannosaurus family tree, but Mr Nesbitt said it provides the best example of how this family of modest-sized dinosaurs evolved into the towering horror of movies, television shows and nightmares.

Smithsonian Institution palaeobiologist Hans Sues, who was not part of the study, said it was an important find, adding: “Suskityrannus is the first really good record of the early tyrannosaurs in North America.”

It is unclear why these carnivores, which were not particularly big compared with other dinosaurs alive at that time, later evolved to be so enormous.

Mr Nesbitt said the newly discovered species is probably among the last of the little guys. It was bigger than earlier tyrannosauroids and had big feet needed for speed — something the T. rex lost.

PA

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