Small 'Dr. Seuss'-like dinosaur dug up in Alberta

A chicken-sized dinosaur dug up near Red Deer, Alta., is the smallest such species ever discovered in North America, say researchers.

A chicken-sized dinosaur dug up near Red Deer, Alta., is the smallest such species ever discovered in North America, say researchers.

The Albertonykus borealis was only 75 centimetres long, ran on two legs and gobbled up termites, according to a paper published in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.

The 70-million-year-old bones were found six years ago among the remains of Albertosaurus dinosaurs in Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park.

University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie led the dig and put the bones into storage at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, where years later University of Calgary paleontologist Nick Longrich came across the bones and decided to analyze them.

In the journal article, the two researchers describe how the dinosaur's forelimbs were likely built for tearing apart logs in search of termites.

The small dinosaur looks like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book, said Longrich, who called the findings "pretty cool."

"We've never seen one this far north. Before this we only had two bones from this type of animal ever seen in North America and now we've got almost a dozen bones, most of them from one site," he said.

"So it doesn't give us a perfect idea of what the animal looked like but it gives us a much better idea."

Most of the bones dug up in North America have been from large animals, he said.

"Now that we are finally starting to find some of the smaller ones it is suggesting that our picture of the fauna is skewed. We are primarily picking up the big skeletons. They just preserve better."

Longrich said there are more discoveries to be made from bones already dug up in Alberta and sitting in storage.

"The more you look, the more you start finding unusual things," he said.