What do you get when you add a keen sense of smell to a dinosaur with large teeth and sharp claws? Answer: a hunting and killing machine. A new species of carnivorous dinosaur whose remains were recently discovered in the New Mexico wilderness had a powerful nose for tracking down its prey -- an important trait for an animal that measured just six feet in length, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
The new species, which walked the earth some 75 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, belonged to a group of feathered, carnivorous dinosaurs known as dromaeosauridae, making it a relative of the famed Velociraptor. The recently identified dinosaur’s official name, Saurornitholestes sullivani, means “lizard bird thief.”
S. sullivani wasn’t a large animal, but the size of its olfactory bulb -- the structure in the forebrain of vertebrates that helps interpret odors -- meant it had a more advanced nose than its relatives. “This keen olfaction may have made S. sullivani an intimidating predator,” Steven Jasinski, a doctoral student in Penn’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, said in a statement. “Although it was not large, this was not a dinosaur you would want to mess with.”
Jasinski is also the acting curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. He identified S. sullivani from fossilized remains previously thought to have belonged to another known dinosaur species, Saurornitholestes langstoni. However, Jasinski realized the fossil, discovered in 1999, actually belonged to an entirely new species, S. sullivani.
“This find helps show us … that these dinosaurs to the south are different from those up north. They look differently and act differently,” Jasinski told Motherboard. “It helps us know that many areas that have been skimmed over in the past are more unique than we have thought, and that there are many other new and interesting discoveries still out there left to make.”