New termite-eating dinosaur discovered

Xixianykus life reconstruction. Image courtesy of Matt van Rooijen

From ScienceDaily:

‘Road-Runner’ Dinosaur Lived In The Fast Lane, Dug Termites And Ants

(Mar. 29, 2010) — A new study published in the scientific journal Zootaxa by Chinese, Canadian and British researchers describes a new dinosaur that was one of the smallest known and also one of the best adapted for running. The fossil skeleton of the tiny animal, named Xixianykus zhangi, is highly incomplete but would probably have measured around half a meter in length. The specimen comes from Xixia County in Henan province, China.

This Late Cretaceous ‘road-runner’ had a number of adaptations for fast, efficient locomotion. Most strikingly, the upper leg (the femur or thigh bone) is particularly short in comparison to the lower leg and the foot — a pattern seen in many running animals today. Other features of the hind limb, pelvis and backbone would have promoted stability and reduced superfluous, energy-wasting movements as Xixianykus dashed across prehistoric landscapes.

Dr. Corwin Sullivan, a Canadian researcher and one of the authors of the study said: “The limb proportions of Xixianykus are among the most extreme ever recorded for a theropod dinosaur. This doesn’t provide a basis for estimating its top speed, but it does show that Xixianykus was a highly efficient runner. Several other characteristics of the skeleton reinforce this impression.”

Interestingly, some of these characteristics might also have played a role in another of the animal’s likely activities — digging for termites and ants. Xixianykus is a member of a group of theropod dinosaurs (which includes famous animals like Tyrannosaurs, Allosaurus and Velociraptor) called the alvarezsaurs, many of which probably shared its fast-paced approach to life. Although the forequarters of Xixianykus are not preserved, its closest relatives among the alvarezsaurs had short but strong arms, tipped by a single massive claw to break into logs or insect nests, and Xixianykus likely fed in the same way. Some of the adaptations that helped to stabilize the body when running could also have braced it when digging. Surprising as it may seem, the two activities complement each other in some respects and add up to a viable if unusual lifestyle.

Study coauthor Dr David Hone, a British researcher, said: “It may sound odd, but digging and running actually work quite well together. Some modern termite eating species travel long distances between colonies of their prey, so as an efficient runner Xixianykus would have been able to follow this pattern. Any small dinosaurs would be vulnerable to predators too and the ability to make a speedy exit if danger threatened would be valuable to an animal like this.”

This research was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Department of Land and Resources, Henan.

See also here. And here.

A 30-foot-long, 135-million-year-old Allosaurus skeleton sells for $1.8M at Sotheby’s Paris: here.


12 thoughts on “New termite-eating dinosaur discovered

  1. Dinosaur claw found by workmen on Harrow on the Hill

    April, 02 2010

    Harrow Observer

    DINOSAUR remains were discovered this week in Harrow on the Hill. Council workmen filling in one of the borough’s many potholes found a fossilized retractable claw yesterday morning and invited palaeontologists from the University of Portsmouth to inspect the specimen.

    Further digging in Harrow on the Hill uncovered a metatarsal bone, shin and knee cap. The road has been sealed off indefinitely while investigations continue.

    Ancient reptile boffins say it is too early to tell which dinosaur species the bones belong to, but local geologists have already dubbed the find ‘Harrowsaurus’.

    Norman Carr, from the Harrow Archaeological History Association, told the Observer: “Harrow is known to date back to pre-Roman times, but this astonishing discovery could yet prove the town’s origins go way further.

    “Harrowsaurus was most likely a carnivore by the look of that killer claw.

    “I expect they feasted on the trendy vegetarian dinosaurs thought to have been living around Camden at the same time.”

    Residents are advised to stay in their homes while the undergraduate palaeontologists continue digging.

    One householder said: “I always suspected Harrow was a haven for giant, extinct reptiles. You could just tell.”

    The last dinosaur fossils discovered in London were the Iguanodon remains found at Baker Street, when excavations for the Metropolitan Line were taking place in the 1860s.

    Ironically, the three tonne herbivore would migrate daily to Pinner in the early Cretaceous period, taking less time than the Met Line does today.


  2. Termites eat 10 million rupees

    INDIA: Police said today that an army of termites had munched through 10 million rupees in notes stored in a steel chest at a Lucknow bank.

    The bank manager discovered the damage when he opened the reinforced room in an old bank building on Wednesday.

    “It’s a matter of investigation how termites attacked bundles of currency notes stacked in a steel chest,” said a police spokesman.

    The police have registered a case of negligence against bank officials.


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