Researcher finds tiny dino in world of giants

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A Canadian researcher has discovered what is believed to be North America’s smallest dinosaur, a 70-million-year-old chicken-sized beast that was also unusual for its diet of insects.

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Called the Albertonykus borealis, the odd-looking creature had bird-like features including slender legs, jaws like pincers and stubby arms with big claws.

Its bones were excavated near Red Deer, in fossil-rich Alberta, in 2002 among about 20 Albertosaurus remains, and went unnoticed.

The dinosaur is a newly discovered member of the family Alvarezsauridae, from which fossils had previously been dug up only in South America and Mongolia, said Nick Longrich, paleontology research associate at the University of Calgary.

The find is evidence that the dinosaurs migrated to Asia from the bottom part of the western hemisphere, Longrich said.

His research on the Albertonykus is published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

“Most of the dinosaurs we know about -- things like Tyrannosaurus, giant carnivores, or Triceratops, big herbivores -- are large. This thing is very small, about 2-1/2 feet (two-thirds of a meter) long and we think it’s doing something very different: we think it might have actually been an insectivore,” he said.

It was not made for digging, like moles. Its features were not unlike those of anteaters, and Longrich said it appears it tore into logs so it could feast on termites or beetles.

“This is a dinosaur doing what we didn’t have a lot of evidence of them doing before,” he said.

He said it may have been prey for such other dinosaurs as Albertosaurus and Velociraptors, those that could catch the speedy little beast.

“(The find) tells us a little bit about how these dinosaurs were dispersing through the environment, and I think one of the things that it also emphasizes is that there’s a lot more waiting to be discovered,” Longrich said.

Editing by Peter Galloway