Toronto: A new quick-footed herbivorous dinosaur, that roamed the Earth 77 million years ago, has been discovered in Canada.
Albertadromeus syntarsus was identified from a partial hind leg, and other skeletal elements, that indicate it was a speedy runner. Approximately 1.6 metre long, it weighed about 16 kg, comparable to a large turkey.
Albertadromeus lived in what is now southern Alberta in the Late Cretaceous, about 77 million years ago.
Unlike its much larger ornithopod cousins, the duckbilled dinosaurs, its two fused lower leg bones would have made it a fast, agile two-legged runner.
This animal is the smallest known plant-eating dinosaur in its ecosystem, and researchers hypothesise that it used its speed to avoid predation by the many species of meat-eating dinosaurs that lived at the same time.
Dinosaurs are often thought of as large, fierce animals, but new research highlights a previously overlooked diversity of small dinosaurs.
In the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, a team of paleontologists from the University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and University of Calgary have described the new dinosaur, the smallest plant-eating dinosaur species known from Canada.
Albertadromeus was discovered in 2009 by study co-author David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum. The known dinosaur diversity of this time period is dominated by large bodied plant-eating dinosaurs.
Smaller animals are less likely to be preserved than larger ones, because their bones are more delicate and are often destroyed before being fossilised, researchers said.
"Albertadromeus may have been close to the bottom of the dinosaur food chain but without dinosaurs like it you`d not have giants like T rex," said Michael Ryan.
"Our understanding of the structure of dinosaur ecosystems is dependent on the fossils that have been preserved. Fragmentary, but important, specimens like that of Albertadromeus suggest that we are only beginning to understand the shape of dinosaur diversity and the structure of their communities," said Ryan.
"You can imagine such small dinosaurs filling the niche of animals such as rabbits and being major, but relatively inconspicuous, members of their ecological community," said Anthony Russell of the University of Calgary.