Forgotten Museum Fossil Analyzed, Reveals Something Big about One of the Earth’s Biggest Predators

fossilized femur of a dinosaurThe fossilized femur of a dinosaur had been waiting for analysis at the Museum of Geology and Paleontology, in Palermo, Italy. Even though this bone was about the size of a bus—approximately 30 feet in length and weighing as much as two tons—it had been somehow overlooked. Thankfully, researchers took a a look at it this week and, in a new report published in the journal Peerj, describe that it reveals remarkably information about how a predatory dinosaur called might have moved around.

“Smaller abelisaur fossils have been previously found by paleontologists, but this find shows how truly huge these flesh eating predators had become,” explains researcher Alessandro Chiarenza. “Their appearance may have looked a bit odd as they were probably covered in feathers with tiny, useless forelimbs, but make no mistake they were fearsome killers in their time.”

This particular species of dinosaur was believed to have lived in North America, which approximately 95 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period. This was a time during which the whole of the continent resembled more of a savannah, with rivers and mangroves, perfect for dinosaurs like the abelisaur to hung large fish and even crocodiles or other dinosaurs.

In a press release, the study author goes on to say, “This fossil find, along with the accumulated wealth of previous studies, is helping to solve the question of whether abelisaurs may have co-existed with a range of other predators in the same region. Rather than sharing the same environment, which the jumbled up fossil records may be leading us to believe, we think these creatures probably lived far away from one another in different types of environments.”

Indeed, this specimen could provide more evidence that, in fact, various species of dinosaurs did not co-exist, at had been previously believed. For example, similar research conducted on Tunisian fossil beds suggest that abelisaurs—and their related predators—were inland hunters but spinosaurs—and their predatory cousins—liked to hunt near rivers and mangroves.

The abelisaur specimen was unearthed quite a while ago so not only does this discovery provide great information about the animal, but study co-author Andea Cau uses this opportunity to praise the contributions museums make to science. The University of Bologna researcher says: “While palaeontologists usually venture to remote and inaccessible locations, like the deserts of Mongolia or the Badlands of Montana, our study shows how museums still play an important role in preserving specimens of primary scientific value, in which sometimes the most unexpected surprises can be discovered.”

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