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Albertadromeus, and New Data on Small Ornithopod Dinosaurs from Alberta

May 22, 2013
Reconstruction of the new ornithopod Albertadromeus syntarsus.

Life reconstruction of the new ornithopod Albertadromeus syntarsus. Courtesy Julius Csotonyi.

Yesterday, a team of palaeontologists from the University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and University of Calgary announced  another new dinosaur, Albertadromeus syntarsus,  the smallest plant-eating dinosaur species known from Canada. Albertadromeus  was identified from a partial hind leg, and other skeletal elements, found in the Oldman Formation near the town of Manyberries in southern Alberta.

Albertadromeus lived in what is now southern Alberta in the Late Cretaceous, about 77 million years ago.  Albertadromeus syntarsus means “Alberta runner with fused foot bones”. Unlike its much larger ornithopod cousins, the duckbilled dinosaurs, its two fused lower leg bones would have made it a fast, agile two-legged runner. Approximately 1.6 m (5 ft) long, it weighed about 16 kg (30 lbs), comparable to a large turkey.

The holotype specimen was found in 2009, during a joint fieldwork project conducted by the Royal Ontario Museum and Dr. Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The paper not only names a new taxon, but documents the the first articulated/associated thescelosaur skeletons from the exceedingly well sampled Belly River Group of Alberta, and provides a census of all thescelosaur specimens collected from this unit to date. The conclusion- their remains are much more abundant than previously recognized, and they were probably a lot more diverse as well.  This research also contributes to a growing body of data suggesting preservational biases against the delicate bones of these small dinosaurs, in that they are less likely to be preserved than larger ones because they are destroyed before being fossilized, play a major role in shaping our perceptions of dinosaur ecosystems.

The research was led by Caleb Brown, currently a Ph.D. student in my lab at the University of Toronto, but who completed much of the work as part of his MSc thesis  at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Anthony Russell. The paper was published as the Feature Article in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, which features a reconstruction of Albertadromeus by Julius Csotonyi on the cover.

See the University of Toronto Press Release here.

Full reference:

Brown, C. M., D. C. Evans,  M. J. Ryan, and A. P. Russell. 2013. New data on the diversity and abundance of small-bodied ornithopods (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Belly River Group (Campanian) of Alberta. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 33(3):1–26. Available for free download here.

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