Bloodthirsty T. rex had an unusual relative, nicknamed Pinocchio rex, which a new study describes as having an extremely long snout.
According to the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the new tyrannosaur, Qianzhousaurus sinensis, lived in southern China approximately 66 million years ago.
"Although it's not definite, it's quite likely that Qianzhousaurus was around when that fireball from space so suddenly ended the age of dinosaurs," co-author Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences told Discovery News.
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But before that happened, Pinocchio rex was an active predator living in a lush environment that included many different kinds of dinosaurs, lizards and other animals.
With its long snout adorned with a row of horns, Pinocchio rex likely preyed on the lizards and bird-like dinosaurs known as oviraptorosaurs.
"We suspect it wasn't the top predator in its ecosystem, but maybe a second-tier predator," Brusatte said. "But just because it was second-tier doesn't mean that it wasn't a fearsome, formidable, blood-curdling predator!"
Before this discovery, paleontologists had found a few other dino specimens with unusually long heads. At first, it seemed like the stuff of fairytales that such dinosaurs actually existed. The scientists initially suspected that the fossils represented an early growth stage in dinosaurs, or could have been deformities.
Pinocchio rex -- found largely intact and remarkably well preserved -- clarifies the matter. It's no lie: tyrannosaurs with long snouts really did exist. There appear to have been a lot of them, too.
As lead author Junchang Lü of the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, said: "The new discovery is very important. Along with Alioramus from Mongolia, it shows that the long-snouted tyrannosaurids were widely distributed in Asia.
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"Although we are only starting to learn about them, the long-snouted tyrannosaurs were apparently one of the main groups of predatory dinosaurs in Asia."
These were lean, mean dinosaurs, so the researchers do not think that tyrannosaurs were more vulnerable to extinction than most other species of their time. Nevertheless, the fact remains that these big predators all went extinct around 66 million years ago.
"I suspect that the sudden environmental devastation caused by the impact was so severe that it killed off many, many species on land, and perhaps birds were the one dinosaur group able to make it through because they were smaller, could fly, and could grow fast," Brusatte explained, adding that it's still a mystery as to why so many bird-like feathered dinosaurs, like Velociraptor, did not survive.
Pinocchio rex, at least, lives on today in the dinosaur record books, via its well-preserved remains.
Both Thomas Carr, an associate professor of biology at Carthage College, and Thomas Williamson, from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, are leading experts on tyrannosaurs. They told Discovery News that they believe that Pinocchio rex is an important find.
Carr said he was curious about "how the long snout evolved in the first place," and that he looked forward to more discoveries that could answer this and other questions concerning the dinosaur.
Williamson mentioned that "tyrannosaur evolution was even more complex and interesting than previously thought," especially given that tyrannosaurs with long and shorter snouts co-existed. This suggests that they must have lived and hunted differently -- somehow not eating each other to death before the asteroid hit.