Scientists discover tiny, one-fingered relative of T-Rex

 

IT WASN’T fearsome but it certainly was unique. Scientists have discovered the first two-legged dinosaur that has just one finger and not the usual three.

It was a meat eater and part of the same family that produced the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex.But the newcomer, Linhenykus monodactylus, did not cut quite the same dash as its larger cousin.

“This tiny insectivorous dinosaur lived roughly 80 million years ago, and would have weighed about one pound [450g], measured about 15 inches [40cm] from head to tail and reached to just below the average person’s knee,” said University College Dublin’s Dr David Hone, who was part of the team that discovered it.

Dr Hone explained how the fossil – dug out of rocks on the border between Mongolia and China – got its name. “ Linhenykusmeans “claw from Linhe”, and Linhe is the city in Inner Mongolia near where the specimen was found. And monodactylusmeans “one-fingered”, he said.

It probably weighed no more than a large parrot, according to the researchers, who were led by Prof Xing Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Details of the find were published yesterday afternoon in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The find did not amount to much but there was enough to identify the animal as a previously unknown theropod – a type of carnivorous beast that walked on two strong back legs but had quite weak front limbs.

All theropod species discovered up until now sported three clawed fingers on each limb, typically with one large and two small fingers. But Linhenykusbroke the mould with just a single clawed finger.

It appeared that the two smaller fingers seen in theropod relatives had atrophied in Linhenykus, Dr Hone said.

The dig location is in a protected Chinese national park that has proven to be a particularly rich source of dinosaur fossils. The rocks bearing the fossilised bones were from the Upper Cretaceous Wulansuhai formation, which dates the fossils to between 75 million and 84 million years old.

Scientists are interested in animals like Linhenykusbecause modern birds are believed to have evolved from the theropods.