New Dinosaur Alert! Raptor Species Found in Museum

A new dinosaur Saurornitholestes sullivani has been found by University of Pennsylvania doctoral candidate Steven Jasinski. The dinosaur specimen had been lurking in the State Museum of Pennsylvania under the name of another dinosaur–until now.

U. Penn Doctoral Candidate Discovers New Dinosaur

While studying for his doctorate degree in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Steven Jasinski found a specimen that appeared to be different from the rest, though it was labeled already.

The fossil in question had been claimed as Saurornitholestes langstoni, a species of what we refer to as raptors, but what paleontologists know as Dromaeosaurs.

Jasinski, who works at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, noticed the skull fragment in the fossil collection just didn’t quite belong. The curator of paleontology then compared the specimen to other dromaeosaurs with the use of holotype specimens, which assist in comparing fossils to the known specimen that defined the species (think of it as comparing something to an original sketch). The comparison samples from the U.S., Canada, and Europe as well as Asia revealed his fossil was unique.

Jasinski had found a new dinosaur: Saurornitholestes sullivani.

New Dinosaur Alert! Raptor Species Found in Museum

What Distinguishes The New Dinosaur? A Keen Sense of Smell

Saurornitholestes sullivani, or S. sullivani for short, had a skull that showed a particularly large olfactory bulb, a structure in the forebrain. Jasinski believes this structure shows the dinosaur had a keen sense of smell that possibly assisted the raptor in night hunting, giving it a competitive edge.

The heightened sense of smell may have also worked in conjunction with the animal’s pack mentality. For example, an acute sense of smell is often seen in species who live, hunt, and breed in packs, allowing them to communicate through chemical signatures, or pheromones. The dinosaurs could easily use their sense of smell to communicate with one another while mobilizing to attack a larger herbivore for a quick dinner.

The edge S. sullivani obtained from its olfactory senses may have been needed, as the new dinosaur is actually quite small in comparison to other dinosaurs which existed in the Cretaceous period around 8 million to 10 million years ago. Its speed and agility may have been contributing factors to its survival until the mass dinosaur extinction wiped it away along with its relatives.

How the S. sullivani Can Help Us To Find New Species Right Under Our Noses

Jasinski hopes that the S. sullivani study will spur more researchers, paleontologists, and students to check through museum specimens and collections to perhaps uncover new species that have been with us all along.

The fossil record has many gaps of knowledge, where our understanding and our discoveries haven’t been bridged. By reviewing fossils more thoroughly, finding intricate details that may have been overlooked and reassessing their status as a specific species, we may be able to see that what we thought was one species could in fact be two–or more.

As S. sullivani proves, new dinosaurs aren’t always waiting in dirt for us to come find them; new dinosaurs may be sitting in old collections, waiting for us to reevaluate their names.


Hang out with some raptors in virtual reality with SnailVR: