Since 2003, paleontologists have discovered more than 45 new dinosaur species annually on average. In this era of unparalleled discovery in paleontology, researchers are revolutionizing our knowledge of the ancient world.
Tom Holtz of the University of Maryland, who keeps a record of new dinosaur findings, reports that 42 new dinosaur species have been identified so far this year. What has kept this pace going? For starters, more individuals are working on the investigation, according to Holtz, “more teams, more eyes on the ground, and more regions of the world being scrutinized.” More diverse and international than ever, dinosaur paleontology has enormous scientific benefits.
Additionally, scientists have a more nuanced understanding of what a dinosaur “species” is. Iguanodon was the name given by paleontologists to fossils dating back tens of millions of years. Reassessments have revealed that Iguanodon is actually a number of species, including a brand-new one that was discovered in November.
Astonishing new information on dinosaurs is being discovered thanks to technology, including information about their scaly skin, digestive and reproductive systems, cellular makeup, social behaviors, and even how some of them nestled in frigid regions.
The combined findings show how varied and peculiar these extinct species actually were. Here are 10 of the most incredible dinosaurs discovered by scientists this year, listed in no particular order.
Armored Dinosaur Swung an Unusual Tail
The quintessential dinosaurs, or “living tanks,” are the armored ankylosaurs. The Ankylosaurus itself was one of the largest and most imposing, and it even carried a massive club composed of bone at the end of its tail.
However, paleontologists are now discovering that ankylosaurs really developed a wider range of protective armor than previously thought. Ankylosaur Stegouros elengassen was reported last year from bones discovered in Chilean rock that is 72–75 million years old. It had a bone spur that resembled a fern at the end of its tail.
Paleontologists are pondering what other odd patterns armored dinosaurs may have had in the past because no dinosaur has a tail just like it.
Morocco’s “punk-rock” dinosaur with bizarrely spiky ribs
A bizarre reptile with enormous spikes sprouting from its skin and out of its ribs trundled through what is now northern Morocco between 168 million and 164 million years ago.
The sole known fossil of this animal is a single rib fragment with four spikes that is about 10.5 inches long and was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution in September. Researchers have a strong suspicion the fossil belongs to an ankylosaur, a species of armored dinosaur, based on its size and structure. Spicomellus afer is the name of the dinosaur and comes from the Latin words for “spike,” “collar,” and “an resident of Africa.”
The first known ankylosaur, Spicomellus, was the first to be discovered in Africa. Additionally, there is no known living or extinct organism like it. The paleontologist at London’s Natural History Museum who oversaw the study on Spicomellus, Susannah Maidment, explains that if you feel your own ribs, you’ll find muscles over the top of them that enable your arms to move. When their ribs were plainly visible above the skin, what were they doing with their muscles?
Through the intricate and legally challenging commercial traffic in Moroccan fossils, Spicomellus ended up in the U.K. museum. The rib bone traveled via a number of Moroccan wholesalers before arriving to Moussa Direct, a U.K.-based fossil dealer, who then sold the piece to the museum.
Given that it originated from the same region in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the bone was initially mistakenly believed to be a piece of the stegosaur Adratiklit.
The fossil became far more significant, however, when Maidment and her colleagues quickly discovered that it belonged to a brand-new species. The Natural History Museum and Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez, Morocco, subsequently came to an agreement to do joint study on the fossil.
In 2019, Maidment traveled to the original dig site after her team tracked the fossil’s journey via the supply chain. Driss Ouarhache, a geologist and co-author of the study, went to the location in 2020 to gather important geology information.
According to Maidment, the university in Ouarhache is constructing a new museum that will have room for future fossils from Spicomellus’s location.
Fuzzy Dinosaur From Brazil Stirs Ethics Debate
An multinational group of paleontologists described Ubirajara jubatus, a peculiar new dinosaur from Brazil that was kept at a German museum, before the end of 2020. The first of its type to be discovered, this feathered dinosaur had protofeathers that resembled ribbons emerging from its shoulders.
The greater question is, though, how a fossil from Brazil ended up in Germany, which is not the dinosaur’s native country. There are contradictory reports of how the fossil was transferred from Brazil, which may have been against the law. The State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe has been under pressure to repatriate the fossil as a result of the social media movement #UbirajaraBelongstoBR.
The museum declined to do so, and as a result, the ongoing discussion and disagreements over colonialism in paleontology have become more heated.
Australia’s biggest known dinosaur
The Mackenzie family has operated a sheep and cattle ranch close to the small town of Eromanga for many generations deep in Australia’s southwestern Queensland region. Teenager Sandy Mackenzie discovered evidence that the property formerly housed ancient giants in 2004.
The Mackenzies and a team under the direction of Queensland Museum paleontologist Scott Hocknull began excavating bonebeds discovered on the property in 2006, and they discovered Australia’s largest known dinosaur.
The fossilized remains of the animal, known as “Cooper” after a local stream, spent more than a decade being examined by scientists, who also performed 3-D scans of the bones’ exteriors. The approximately 95-million-year-old dinosaur, known as Australotitan cooperensis, is a new species, according to a protracted investigation that was published in the journal PeerJ in June.
An australotitan is a titanosaurian, a class of long-necked sauropods that also contains the largest terrestrial creatures known to walk, such the enormous Patagotitan from Argentina. The upper limb bones of the Australotitan were at least 6.2 feet long, and the entire animal is thought to have weighed between 26 and 82 tons when it was alive.
Tyrants Once Dominated Their Environments
It’s possible that tyrannosaurs were as oppressive as their name suggests. The same finding has been supported by a number of studies that were released in 2020 and 2021, namely that giant tyrannosaurs—including T. rex itself—shouldered out its carnivorous rivals by altering radically as they grew older.
Tyrannosaurs had an adolescent development surge that transformed them from small, bone-chewing predators that could only pursue small prey into enormous, bone-crushing carnivores. By having young and immature animals occupy the tasks that would often be held by other tiny species of carnivore, a single species like T. rex or Gorgosaurus could cover numerous niches in the same ecosystem.
The exquisite Mexican dinosaur with a comma-shaped crest
In the Coahuila Province in southern Mexico, José and Rodolfo López Espinoza discovered an amazing relic in 2005: the nearly entire tail of a dinosaur that lived 72 million years ago.
In 2013, a group of Mexican paleontologists went to the location to dig the bones, revealing more of the animal, including its cranium. The dinosaur, which was unveiled in Cretaceous Research in May, was unique.
A lambeosaur is a species of herbivorous dinosaur, like Tlatolophus galorum. The dinosaur’s spectacular crest is said to mimic the tlahtolli, an Aztec sign that looks like a comma and in Nahuatl means “word,” hence the name. The two family names Garza and López are combined to create the species name galorum in recognition of those who assisted in the fossil’s acquisition.
Tlatolophus probably was around 6.5 feet tall at the hip and measured about 26 feet from snout to tail. Scientists believe that the animal was a close relative of the famous crested lambeosaur Parasaurolophus, which can be seen drinking from a lake towards the beginning of the Jurassic Park movie. This is based on the animal’s well-preserved skull.
The range of known crest forms is increased by Tlatolophus, which most likely contributed significantly to the social life of the dinosaurs by altering the sound of their cries.
Predators Once Towered Over Smaller Tyrannosaurs
Tyrannosaurs were not always powerful and big. In actuality, other types of enormous, carnivorous dinosaurs played the job of the apex predator for tens of millions of years when tyrannosaurs were little.
Tyrannosaurs gradually replaced other top carnivores in the northern continents of the Late Cretaceous, and a new species identified this year from Uzbekistan helps to explain how that happened.
Ulughbegsaurus was more closely linked to dinosaurs like Allosaurus and was roughly 30 feet long, far longer than the tyrannosaur in its environment. Although the reason why these massive, “shark toothed” dinosaurs gave up so many of their homes to tyrannosaurs is still unknown, the latest discovery helps paleontologists focus their search.
The Isle of Wight’s “hell heron” and “riverbank hunter”
The Isle of Wight’s southwest shore is now a stunning seascape surrounded by sandstone cliffs in the United Kingdom. A savanna-like valley with rivers and floodplains cut through it existed more than 125 million years ago, making it the ideal habitat for two enormous dinosaurs with sleek, crocodile-like heads.
Fossils discovered on the island, described in the journal Scientific Reports in September, showed two novel spinosaurid species, a mysterious clade of large predatory dinosaurs that includes the well-known “swimming dinosaur” Spinosaurus.
Spinosaurids are thought to have been riverside predators similar to modern herons, thus the name Ceratosuchops inferodios, which translates to “horned, crocodile-faced hell heron.” The name Riparovenator milnerae, which honors British spinosaurid scientist Angela Milner, translates to “Milner’s riverside hunter.” At the hips, each dinosaur was probably 6.6 feet tall and around 26 feet long.
Scientists Discover Baby Dinosaur Fossils in the Arctic
Although paleontologists have known for some time that dinosaurs were within the Arctic Circle, it has remained unclear whether or not they were year-round residents. The controversy is settled by a collection of dinosaur embryos and juvenile dinosaurs discovered in Alaska’s North Slope.
From dinosaur embryos and hatchlings that lived in the Cretaceous Arctic, which would have experienced many months of cold and darkness each year, paleontologists have discovered small bones and teeth.
The fact that dinosaurs were breeding and rearing their young here indicates how adaptable they were to many environments and climatic conditions.
A toothless pipsqueak from Brazil
A spectacular toothless dinosaur was revealed in November by a Brazilian research team in the publication Scientific Reports. The Berthasaura leopoldinae fossil is the most complete specimen of its genus and age ever discovered in Brazil.
It is named after two significant Brazilian women: Maria Leopoldina, the first empress of Brazil, who was crucial in achieving the nation’s freedom, and biologist Bertha Maria Jlia Lutz.
In rocks between 125 million and 100 million years old, Berthasaura was discovered. The animal would have been relatively tiny and agile at around 1.5 feet long.
Its beak seems to be designed for nipping at plants and perhaps tiny prey. Berthasaura belonged to the ceratosaurs, a group of typically toothed, meat-eating dinosaurs, whereas other theropod species, such as the toothless “ostrich mimic” ornithomimids, possessed beaks like those of contemporary birds.
Dinosaurs Hung Out With Their Peers
Some dinosaurs liked to congregate with their age-related contemporaries. A recent research that looked at the social behaviors of a long-necked, herbivorous dinosaur named Mussaurus that lived around 200 million years ago came to that result.
Paleontologists discovered eggs and hatchlings together, juveniles together, and adults either alone or in pairs at a fossil site that was home to several dinosaurs of various ages. This biological phenomena, known as “age segregation,” in which social groupings are established based on age, supports hypotheses about other dinosaur sites that are comparable to this one.
Dinosaurs liked to associate with other dinosaurs of the same generation rather than herds of many generations.
A strange Chilean dinosaur with a blade-like tail weapon
More than 72 million years ago, a fierce tiny dinosaur with a distinctive tail weapon—a mass of fused bone like a jagged cricket bat—lived in the river deltas of Chilean Patagonia. Paleontologist Alexander Vargas of the University of Chile described the tail as “completely unprecedented.”
The fossil skeleton belonged to a newly discovered species of tiny armored dinosaur named Stegouros elengassen, and it was published in the journal Nature in December. The creature’s name refers to both its strangely shingled “roof tail” and an armored beast from the Patagonian Aónik’enk people’s mythology. Its unique tail weapons are now known as the macuahuitl, after an Aztec bladed club. .
The “Smallest Dinosaur” Is Really a Lizard
Paleontologists revealed what was hailed as the tiniest dinosaur ever discovered at the beginning of 2020. But it wasn’t. Oculudentavis khaungraae was instantly questioned by experts, and there was a report that a second specimen revealed that it was truly a lizard 99 million years old.
This year saw the publication of a research confirming Oculudentavis’ lizard ancestry, but the narrative goes beyond simple fossil identification. Both Oculudentavis specimens were discovered wrapped in amber that was mined in Myanmar, a nation where amber mining has been linked to genocide and human rights abuses.
Paleontologists are questioning the propriety of publishing on specimens that may be connected to a black market feeding the conflict, despite the fact that fossils preserved in Myanmar amber are stunning.
Two huge dinosaurs found in China’s pterosaur gold mine
The remarkable remains of pterosaurs, flying reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs and were found in the rocky outcrops of Hami in northwest China’s autonomous Xinjiang province, are the reason for the region’s fame. But now, scientists have discovered dinosaur bones for the first time in these sediments, and they are from two previously unknown species.
These bones, which were first described in August, belonged to two different species of sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs. One, Silutitan sinensis, has the name of the Silk Road in Chinese Mandarin, while the other, Hamititan xinjiangensis, honors the location of the finding.
Paleontologists May Have Found the Biggest Dinosaur
Huge dinosaur remains are frequently discovered in South America. The 121-foot-long, 63-ton Patagotitan, which was named in 2017, was followed shortly after by the revelation of another behemoth that may be even bigger by Argentine paleontologists.
Although the name of the partial fossil skeleton has not yet been assigned, it looks to be brand-new and might be bigger than Patagotitan. Before paleontologists can proclaim a winner, it could take some time. Size estimations and comparisons are difficult because all the candidates for the title of “biggest dinosaur” are known from partial remains.
New armless abelisaur dinosaur species discovered in Argentina
An incomplete skull discovered in Argentina offers further proof of a distinct environment existing throughout the Late Cretaceous.
The abelisaurid, a group of carnivores that inhabited what is now Africa, South America, and India, had Guemesia ochoai as one of its species. The dinosaur, which lived around 70 million years ago, may have been a near cousin of the progenitors of the whole group.
The discovery of Guemesia ochoai’s skull provides important new information about a region with few abelisaurid fossils and may help explain why such odd animals evolved there.
According to co-author and Museum Research Leader Professor Anjali Goswami, “This new dinosaur is highly rare for its sort. It possesses various distinguishing qualities that point to the possibility that it is a novel species, adding significant new knowledge about a region of the earth about which we know little.
It supports the notion of multiple regions in the Cretaceous of South America by demonstrating that the dinosaurs that lived here were very different from those in other places of Argentina. Additionally, it demonstrates that there is far more to be found in these regions than in some of the more well-known fossil sites.