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Friday, July 6, 2007

Daspletosaurus

Daspletosaurus skeleton at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Daspletosaurus (meaning 'frightful lizard') was a genus of tyrannosauridtheropod dinosaur that lived in western North America between 80 and 73 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous Period. Fossils of the only named species (D. torosus) were found in Alberta, although other possible species from Alberta, Montana and New Mexico await description. Including these undescribed species, Daspletosaurus is the most species-rich genus of tyrannosaur.

Daspletosaurus is closely related to the much larger and more recent Tyrannosaurus. Like most known tyrannosaurids, it was a multi-ton bipedal predator equipped with dozens of large, sharp teeth. Daspletosaurus had the small forelimbs typical of tyrannosaurids, although they were proportionately longer than in other genera. It was probably similar in weight to a modern white rhinoceros or a small elephant.

As an apex predator, Daspletosaurus was at the top of the food chain, probably preying on large dinosaurs like the ceratopsid Centrosaurus and the hadrosaur Hypacrosaurus. In some areas, Daspletosaurus coexisted with another tyrannosaurid, Gorgosaurus, though there is some evidence of niche differentiation between the two. While Daspletosaurus fossils are rarer than other tyrannosaurids, the available specimens allow some analysis of the biology of these animals, including social behavior, diet and life history.

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