Drexel Researcher among Team that Discovered Giant Feathered Plant-Eating Dinosaur from Ancient China
October 4, 2007
Drexel University paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara is among the team of researchers led by Dr. Hai-Lu You of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences that discovered fossils belonging to a bizarre dinosaur that lived on Earth more than 115 million years ago. The corpulent, feathered plant-eating dinosaur lived and waddled across what today is the Gobi Desert in Gansu Province in northwestern China.
Though it walked only on its hind legs like the carnivorous dinosaurs from which it evolved, it was instead a waddling plant-eater. The team of Chinese and American paleontologists formally named this new dinosaur Suzhousaurus megatherioides (pronounced SOO-zhoh-SAWR-us MEH-guh-THEER-ee-OY-deez, meaning “giant sloth-like reptile from Suzhou”) in a paper recently published in the journal Acta Geologica Sinica.
According to Lacovara, “Suzhousaurus belongs to a strange group of dinosaurs called therizinosaurs, which are characterized by feathered bodies, turkey-like heads, Edward Scissorhands-like claws, and plump pot-bellies.”
The environment in which Suzhousaurus lived was studied by Lacovara. “This bizarre dinosaur lived on a warm, semi-arid plain dotted with shallow, ephemeral lakes,” he said. “It shared its world with a host of other Early Cretaceous dinosaurs, including giant, long-necked, plant-eating sauropods and early relatives of duck-billed herbivores.”
“Suzhousaurus is unique in being the oldest well-known, very large member of this group of dinosaurs,” said Dr. Daqing Li of the Mineral Resources Exploration Academy of Gansu Province. Li and Dr. You of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences were the chief researchers on the team. Previously, big therizinosaurs like this were known to exist only at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, according to You.
In an analysis of the relationships of the animal, the team found that its closest known relative is a dinosaur called Nothronychus, which has been found only in somewhat younger rocks in New Mexico and Utah. This relationship allows team members Drs. Matt Lamanna of Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Jerry Harris of Dixie State College of Utah to speculate about an interchange of animals between North America and Asia early in the Cretaceous Period.
“More and more, paleontologists are discovering similar kinds of dinosaurs in rocks of Early Cretaceous age in both eastern Asia and western North America,” according to the Lamanna and Harris. “The most primitive known therizinosaur comes from Utah, so the group may have originated there, but they evolved large body size relatively quickly once they got to Asia.”
As a member of this Sino-American expeditionary team, Lacovara and colleagues previously discovered the fossilized remains of dozens of 115 million year old birds (Gansus yumenensis) in a remote mountain valley in western China. The team discerned that this Cretaceous age aquatic bird possessed surprisingly advanced anatomical features and in 2006 Lacovara co-authored a report in the journal Science describing Gansus as the “oldest-known essentially modern bird.”
Dr. Kenneth J. Lacovara is an Associate Professor at Drexel University in the Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology. He holds a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Delaware and is an elected fellow of the prestigious Explorers Club. Recently featured in Men’s Journal as a member of The Next Generation of Explorers, Lacovara has built an international reputation for making spectacular paleontological discoveries at punishingly remote locations. Lacovara has led numerous expeditions to Patagonia, where he has discovered a new species of dinosaur, represented by the most complete skeleton known of an extremely massive dinosaur. He was the chief geologist on the 2000-2001 Bahariya Dinosaur Project, an Egyptian dig that unearthed a new species of massive dinosaur, Paralititan stromeri. Closer to home, Lacovara has unearthed 65 million year old crocodile and sea turtle fossils from Cretaceous deposits in southern New Jersey.
To interview Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, contact the Drexel News Bureau, at 215-895-6741.
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