New University of Wisconsin-Parkside Biological Sciences Professor Lindsay Zanno is part of team of scientists that this week unveiled a new species of raptor dinosaur discovered in southern Utah.
The dinosaur—Talos sampsoni— sheds new light on several long-standing questions in paleontology including how dinosaurs evolved on the “lost continent” of Laramidia (western North America). Their findings will be published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Talos sampsoni is a member of a rare group of feathered, bird-like theropod dinosaurs whose North American evolution is a longstanding source of scientific debate largely due to the lack of decent fossil material. Talos is the first definitive troodontid theropod named from the Late Cretaceous of North America in more than 75 years.
“Finding a decent specimen of this type of dinosaur in North America is like a lightning strike … it’s a random event of thrilling proportions,” said Zanno, lead author of the study naming the new dinosaur.
In addition to her UW-Parkside position, Zanno is a research associate at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Discovery of Talos sampsoni generated even greater excitement than many finds because the second toe of the left foot—the one with the raptor’s enlarged talon, is deformed indicating it suffered a fracture or bite during its life.
“When we realized we had evidence of an injury, the excitement was palpable,” Zanno said. “An injured specimen has a story to tell.”
She said the raptor’s foot injury provides evidence about the potential function of the creature’s toe and claw.
She describes Talos as fleet-footed and lightly built, adding “This little guy [with a body mass of 38 kilograms (83 lbs.)] was a scrapper.”
The name Talos honors a fleet-footed figure of Greek mythology that protected the island of Crete. The species name “sampsoni” is for Dr. Scott Sampson of the PBS TV series Dinosaur Train. Sampson is a research curator at the Utah Museum of Natural History and research faculty at the University of Utah who spearhead research of the Kaiparowits Basin Project.
The new specimen was discovered in 2008 by Montana State University graduate student Mike Knell in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Zanno worked with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) paleontologist Alan Titus, Montana State paleontologist David Varricchio, and Anatomy Professor Patrick O’Connor of Ohio University. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, Chicago’s Field Museum, Ohio University, and the BLM. Zanno’s research was supported by the John Caldwell-Meeker Fellowship and the Bucksbaum Fellowship for Young Scientists.
Bones of Talos sampsoni will be exhibited in the Past Worlds Observatory at the new Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City.