Published November 07, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY – They called him the King of Gore -- but prey probably called him King of Pain.
Paleontologists in Utah unveiled a new dinosaur Wednesday named Lythronax argestes (LY'-throw-nax ar-GES'-tees) -- the first part of which means "king of gore." It's an apt name for what turned out to be the great uncle of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, or "Tyrant Lizard."
Discovered in southern Utah in 2009, the Lythronax skeleton looks like a half-sized tyrannosaur, and it proves giant dinosaurs like T.rex were around 10 million years earlier than previously believed.
A full skeletal replica of the carnivore was on display at the Natural History Museum of Utah alongside a 3-D model of the head and a large painted mural of the dinosaur roaming a shoreline. It should be an eye-opener, because in many ways, it’s nothing like what visitors may expect, explained University of Utah paleontologist Randall Irmis, who co-authored a journal article about the discovery.
“We’re really changing the view of dinosaurs,” he told FoxNews.com. For one thing, Lythronax, which was 24 feet long and 8 feet tall at the hip,was covered in feathers that formed a soft-to-the-touch down.
“Based on fossils found elsewhere, we now that a lot of tyrannosaurs had something of a downy covering -- protofeathers,” Irmis noted. People today stuff their pillowcases with down, he said. “Dinosaur down probably would have been pretty comfortable as well,” he said.
For another thing, this predator’s vision was likely quite sharp; many armchair enthusiasts think dinosaurs had poor eyesight, thanks to an inaccurate description in the movie “Jurassic Park.” Stand still and it would have missed you.
But Lythronax had a very narrow snout with a wide back to its skull. The creature clearly had forward-facing eyes with overlapping, binocular vision -- acute eyesight befitting a predator, making this terrifying beast even scarier.
“They were likely more creepy and fearsome,” he said.
The Wednesday unveiling was the public's first glimpse at the new species, which researchers found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in November 2009, and then spent the past four years digging them up and traveling the world to confirm they were from a new species.
“The discovery is often the most exciting part, but it’s just the beginning of the process,” Irmis told FoxNews.com.
Paleontologists believe the dinosaur lived 80 million years ago in the late Cretaceous Period on a landmass in the flooded central region of North America.
The discovery offers valuable new insight into the evolution of the ferocious tyrannosaurs that have been made famous in movies and captured the awe of school children and adults alike, said Thomas Holtz Jr., a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland department of geology.
"This shows that these big, banana-tooth bruisers go back to the very first days of the giant tyrant dinosaurs," said Holtz, who reviewed the findings. "This one is the first example of these kind of dinosaurs being the ruler of the land."
The new dinosaur likely was a bit smaller than the Tyrannosaurus rex but was otherwise similar, said Mark Loewen, a University of Utah paleontologist who co-authored the journal article. Asked what the carnivorous dinosaur ate, Loewen responded: "Whatever it wants."
"That skull is designed for grabbing something, shaking it to death and tearing it apart," he said.
The fossils were found by a seasonal paleontologist technician for the Bureau of Land Management who climbed up two cliffs and stopped at the base of a third in the national monument.
"I realized I was standing with bone all around me," said Scott Richardson, who called his boss, Alan Titus, to let him know about the fossils.
Loewen and others spent three years traveling the world to compare the fossils to other dinosaurs to be absolutely sure it was a new species. The findings are being published in the journal PLOS One.
There are about 1 million acres of cretaceous rocks that could be holding other new species of dinosaurs, said Titus, the BLM paleontologist who oversees the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Only about 10 percent of the rock formation has been scoured, he said. Twelve other new dinosaurs found there are waiting to be named.
"We are just getting started," Titus said. "We have a really big sandbox to play in."
Holtz said the finding is a testament to the bounty of fossils lying in the earth in North America. He predicts more discoveries in Utah.
"It shows we don't have to go to Egypt or Mongolia or China to find new dinosaurs," Holtz said. "It's just a matter of getting the field teams out."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.