When you think “dinosaurs,” you probably think of tyrannosaurids, those majestic, scary-as-heck monsters that put the “terrible” in “terrible lizard.” What you probably don’t think of is Pinocchio, but that might change after you get a look at Qianzhousaurus sinensis, aka “Pinocchio rex.”
Why the goofy common name? This striking predator had an unusual facial feature: an extremely long nose with large horny protrusions, all the better to…well, actually, scientists aren’t sure, but they sure do want to answer this classic question: “why the long face?”
Discovered in Southeastern China at a construction site, Pinocchio seems to have wandered parts of Asia during the Cretaceous period. (Sorry, Jurassic Park, but you got the wrong geological era.) These creatures may have achieved a height of nearly 30 feet in life, chasing a variety of prey, and if you think their size is impressive, they have even taller relatives, with massive jaws capable of making a snack of pretty much anything; there’s a reason some of the tyrannosaurids were likely apex predators in their day.
Unlike its heavily built relatives, Pinocchio rex was light and agile, with a smaller jaw and a corresponding reduction in jaw strength and bite power. Scientists believe this dinosaur species probably coexisted with close relatives, and there may have been some competition over prey species as dinosaurs squabbled to find their niches within the ecosystem. The advantages of the long nose aren’t immediately clear, but the light build may have conferred an upper hand in some fights, allowing Pinocchio rex to outrun and outmaneuver heavier, more solid competition.
The discovery of a nearly adult specimen also resolves some of the debate that’s been swirling around these dinosaurs. While archaeologists have uncovered juvenile dinos with suspiciously long noses in the past, they were’t sure if they were looking at a very strange juvenile dinosaur or an entirely new specimen. This finding confirms that Pinocchio rex came in a class by itself, and sheds new light into what the landscape would have looked like millions of years ago — complete with colorful scales and feathers, features scientists have been able to identify with the use of pigmentation studies.
This fascinating discovery just goes to show you that there really is something new every day, and sometimes that something is the fossilized remains of a truly giant dinosaur. Pinocchio sat around for millions of years, waiting for us to discover it, and a chance confluence of circumstances led to its finding.
Who knows what else might be out there, and what more we have to learn about prehistoric Earth? This case also illustrates the importance of conducting careful archaeological surveys at building sites before moving forward with construction, to ensure that important discoveries aren’t lost or destroyed.
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Photo credit of a related species, the well-known T-rex: Scott Kinmartin.
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