A “cross between a chicken and a velociraptor” is what an international team of researchers in Spain, Scotland and Canada have revealed to be a new species of carnivorous dinosaur.
The find shows that the new ‘chicken dino’ was an ancestor of today’s birds and it lived in the Pyrenees mountains, which form a natural border between France and Spain, some 66 million years ago, making it among the last of its kind because all dinosaurs went extinct about 200,000 years later.
It all started when a 10-centimetre (3.9-inch) foot bone was found next to a large vertebra belonging to another dinosaur during an archaeological dig at Conca Della, a site located near the village of Sant Roma d’Abella, in the eastern Spanish region of Catalonia.
The fossilised bone was unearthed in 2013 and was left to gather dust for years in the Conca Della museum’s collection but in 2017, staff there started to organise all the artefacts as part of a modernisation project and they stumbled upon the small bone and decided to investigate it.
Dr Albert Selles Garcia, 38, a researcher at the Catalonian Miquel Crusafont Institute of Palaeontology (ICP), led the investigation with the cooperation of other researchers at the Conca Della museum and the universities of Edinburgh (Scotland) and Alberta (Canada).
He told Real Press in an exclusive interview that they have determined that the bone comes from the foot of a new species of dinosaur that belongs to the troodontidae family, which were bird-like dinosaurs. They were relatively small and had feathers. While there have been many cases of troodontidae in North America and Asia, no remains had ever been found in Europe, until now.
Dr Selles Garcia added that it looks like a “cross between a chicken and a velociraptor”.
The new species was named ‘Tamarro insperatus’. According to Dr Selles Garcia, “tamarro” is the name of a fantastical creature, also called a “gamusino”, which lives in forests and is impossible to find despite everyone knowing it is there. The second part of the name, “insperatus” means ‘unexpected’ in Latin, because their discovery was not something they had anticipated.
The researcher said this is the first carnivorous dinosaur discovered in the Pyrenees thanks to a bone, as most discoveries are based on isolated teeth. Dr Selles Garcia explained that “carnivorous dinosaurs tended to lose their teeth easily but also regrew them quickly.”
This animal lived in the Pyrenees 66 million years ago, which is only 200,000 years before the extinction of all dinosaurs on Earth, and therefore “we are talking about the last dinosaurs living in the world.”
However, it is not clear what killed this species of dinosaur, as there are still a lot of aspects of the find to investigate, but it is believed that it was linked with the extinction of the other dinosaurs, which was caused by the impact of a huge meteorite hitting the planet followed by radical changes to the climate.
Researchers put the fossilised foot bone under the microscope and determined that this species was one that would have grown up rather fast, reaching adult maturity quickly.
According to Dr Selles Garcia, this growth speed is not unlike that of today’s ostriches, which are born very small but they reach adult size extremely fast compared to other species. He added: “This is further evidence that birds and dinosaurs are close relatives.”
The expert said that this species “was not very big, around one metre (3.2 feet) tall and one or two metres (3.2 to 6.5 feet) long.” He said that it weighed about 20 kilogrammes (44 lbs), was very thin and slender, “with the appearance of a big ugly bird, like giant chickens, so we can dismiss the traditional notion of a dinosaur being a cold, disgusting reptile.”
He also explained that this new species was warm-blooded and was very active, looking after its offspring. It was carnivorous, but only ate insects, lizards or small mammals such as rats or mice.
Dr Selles Garcia also added that “it had a big brain and big eye sockets, which indicates that they were intelligent and they had big eyes to adapt to their nocturnal environment.”
He said that they probably laid between 12 and 20 eggs and that, just like ostriches, the males were in charge of incubating them. Due to their small size, they were also hunted by numerous natural predators, because they were very large dinosaurs and crocodilians that lived during that era.
The team have recently published their discovery in the academic journal Scientific Reports.