New dinosaur: “Reaper of death” found dead along river in Southern Alberta

Thanatotheristes_Credit-JuliusCsotonyi Illustration by Julius Csotonyi/courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

Imagine finding a new dinosaur as you take a leisurely stroll?

In 2010, John and Sandra De Groot, an Alberta ranching couple, were walking beside the Bow River when they stumbled onto some large bones. This wasn’t unheard of in Southern Alberta, where plenty of large dinosaurs wandered during the Cretaceous period (145 to 66 million years ago) and where rocks harbouring fossils are close to the surface.

The bones made their way to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., where, almost a decade later, a master’s student came across them.

The student, Jared Voris, currently a Ph.D. candidate, had a particular interest in the Tyrannosaur species and noticed something in these bones that he hadn’t seen before. Specifically, he noticed prominent ridges along the jawline, something other species lacked.

Illustration by Julius Csotonyi/courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

Voris was a student of Darla Zelenitsky, a professor of dinosaur paleontology at the University of Calgary. Zelenitsky is thrilled that it was a student who made this discovery. Another graduate student came up with the name: Thanatotheristes degrootorum, a combination of Greek words that mean “reaper of death” with the name of the couple who first discovered the new dinosaur bones.

This particular dinosaur would have been wandering the Badlands approximately 79 million years ago, roughly 12 million years before the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex. (Scotty, found in Saskatchewan and the oldest known T. rex ever, lived about 66 million years ago.)

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Might cottagers stumble on dinosaur bones around the rocky shore of their lakes?

“You have to be where the right age of rock is, but those rocks have to also have been deposited in the right environment back in the Cretaceous,” says Zelenitsky. Put another way, it’s unlikely. If you were to find some dino bones, however, she says that it’s best not to collect them but rather to photograph them and note their location and then contact a paleontologist in your region, at a university or a museum. You never know, you may even get a prehistoric creature named after you.

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