News: Scientists Confirm Discovery of New Dinosaur at The State Museum of Pennsylvania

This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVII, Number 3 - Summer 2011

Daemonosaurus chauliodus

Scientists have confirmed the discovery of a new dinosaur dating to the late Triassic Period by The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Daemonosaurus chauliodus was found in a large mudstone block containing numerous skeletons of the Late Triassic dinosaur Coelophysis, from Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. The block was on loan to The State Museum from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History for display in the museum's Dino Lab, an exhibit enabling visitors to observe a technician uncovering dinosaur remains. The technician, fossil preparator Kevin Dermody, found the skull of the Daemonosaurus in 2004.

Robert M. Sullivan, The State Museum's senior curator of paleontology and geology, recognized the specimen as a new find and notified David Berman, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum. Accompanied by a preparator, Dr. Berman traveled to the museum, removed the new discovery from the block and transported it to the Carnegie for further preparation. It was then sent to Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., for study.

"This is a significant discovery on a number of fronts," Dr. Sullivan said, "because Daemonosaurus not only bridges a gap between the early theropods and Coelophysis, but it also shows that primitive theropod dinosaurs lived side-by-side with more advanced theropods late into the Triassic Period." Consequently, he added, "the diversity of dinosaur species in the Late Triassic is greater than previously thought."

The discovery provides a link between what paleontologists consider "early" and "late" dinosaurs and narrows a breach in the fossil record between the oldest known dinosaurs, which walked or ran on their hind legs about 230 million years ago, and predatory dinosaurs that lived much later. The newly discovered species lived about 205 million years ago, and most likely preyed upon other dinosaurs and small animals. At that time, the American Southwest was located near the equator so it was warm with heavy seasonal precipitation. The species was probably active during the day, although its large eyes suggest it could have seen well at night.

Having found only the head and neck of the sharp-toothed Daemonosaurus chauliodus, researchers aren't sure of its exact size, but speculate it would have been near that of a tall dog. Its name is derived from the Greek words daimon, meaning evil spirit, and sauros, meaning lizard or reptile. Chauliodus is taken from the Greek for "buck-toothed," referring to its large slanted front teeth.

Fossil preparator Kevin Dermody found the skull of Daemonosaurus chauliodus while working on a fossil block in The State Museum's Dino Lab.

And the reason it became extinct? Paleontologists believe it may have fallen victim to a catastrophic event that occurred about two hundred million years ago as the continents were separating, causing enormous volcanic activity and releasing large quantities of lava, which wreaked havoc with the planet. Most dinosaurs survived the cataclysmic event—until an asteroid struck earth sixty-five million years ago—but perhaps not the Daemonosaurus chauliodus.

The discovery was reported in the April 13, 2011, edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, published in London, England, by the Royal Society, a consortium of the world's preeminent scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania is one of twenty-five historic sites and museums on the Pennsylvania Trails of History® administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. To plan a visit, go to www.statemuseumpa.org or visit www.patrailsofhistory.com.