With over 10 life-sized dinosaur specimens on display, including one of the oldest tyrannosaurs, Guanlong wucaii, Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family is designed to provide a snapshot of dinosaur life and show how this group became the world’s top predators with their massive skulls, powerful jaws and bone-crunching teeth.
Current scientific research is causing the world’s most popular dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex), to be re-evaluated. Though one of the first tyrannosaurs to be discovered, T. rex – the swift, flesh-eating apex predator – was actually the last in a long dinosaur dynasty that appeared 165 million years ago and perished 100 million years later.
During the past five years, paleontologists have discovered T. rex’s smaller ancestors. One of these, Guanlong wucaii, is among the most primitive tyrannosaurs known, hunting 90 million years before T. rex. Discoveries like these are changing the story of the evolution of tyrannosaurs, and this fossil helps make the case that feathers originated in dinosaurs before they became used for flight in birds. In small, flightless dinosaurs like Guanlong wucaii, feathers may have evolved as an essential piece of equipment for staying warm. The latest dinosaur finds by Chinese palaeontologist Xing Xu and his team were discovered together in Northwestern China preserved in layers of shale, mudstone and volcanic ash. Shedding light on what life was like 160 million years ago for this group of dinosaurs, these discoveries have cemented the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds. Even with mass extinction events 65 million years ago, some dinosaurs survived and continued to evolve into the modern birds we live with today.
With a name meaning ‘crown dragon’, Guanlong wucaii lived 160 million years ago in the late Jurassic period, its eponymous spectacular head crest running along its snout from nostril to eye socket. Fragile, hollow and made from fused nasal bones, the crest may have been used to attract a mate.
Not a typical tyrannosaur, Guanlong wucaii had long arms and three-fingered hands for grabbing and ripping. But the shape of its teeth, skull and pelvis all link it to the tyrannosaur group. The diminutive dinosaur stood 1.1 metres tall at the hip, and measured 3 metres in length.
Dr Meng Qingin, Director of Beijing Museum of Natural History said, “This is an incredible discovery with tremendous new information on the evolution of the tyrannosaurs. Similar in appearance to ornamental features seen in birds like cassowaries and hornbills, the crest on Guanlong wucaii may have been used for display.”
Continuing he said, “It was generally accepted that birds were descended from dinosaurs. People had found many dinosaurs that shared striking similarities with early birds, yet a few things didn't quite fit. The time sequence didn't seem to be correct, for instance. Most of these bird-like dinosaurs were from the Cretaceous, from 145 million to 65 million years ago, but the earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx, was much older - from the Jurassic, 200 million to 145 million years ago. Also, if birds were descended from dinosaurs, you would predict that their dinosaur ancestors should have feathers or feather-like structures. These fossil finds now link these two theories.”
Australian Museum Website