Scientists in Switzerland have discovered a new species of dinosaur after unearthing a well-preserved skeleton from the late triassic period.
According to new research from the University of Zurich, the dinosaur — a carnivorous predator about 8.5 feet long — belongs to a genus and species never before seen.
Paleontologists named the new dinosaur Notatesseraeraptor frickensis, a reference to the town of Frick, Switzerland, where the skeleton was unearthed in 2006. But it wasn’t until this week that the results of a phylogenetic analysis (like a map of the dino’s evolutionary tree) were published, revealing its traits were unlike any other.
“We realized that it was something important,” the study’s author Marion Zahner told CNN, adding that the skull first tipped her off to the dinosaur’s unique characteristics. “The skull is very interesting from an evolutionary standpoint.”
The species is also the first theropod, a group of flesh-eating dinosaurs that walk on two supportive hind legs (think of a T. Rex with strong legs and stubby arms), found in Switzerland.
“Frick is very famous for dinosaur bones,” said Zahner, who is a PhD candidate at the University of Zurich. “For about 30 years they have been digging there, but most of the time they only find the bones of the Plateosaurus.”
According to the research paper, the unearthed skeleton “includes a nearly complete skull, two articulated forelimbs and stomach contents.”
Researchers were even able to determine that the dinosaur’s last meal was a small lizard called a Clevosaurus through an analysis of the leftovers in its stomach.
The skull is still sitting in Zahner’s office, only measuring about 9 inches. But a full replica and model skeleton can be found at the dinosaur museum in Frick.
Zahner hopes the dinosaur model will teach visitors, students and future paleontologists about how species’ traits evolve over thousands of years. For example, she explains that dinosaurs are ancestors of birds we see today.
“I just think every fossil is very special and it’s important the whole tree of life to understand past present and future,” said Zahner.