Public Release: 

Wits researcher names juvenile specimen of a new species of dinosaur in Western China

University of the Witwatersrand


IMAGE: This is a view the of the hand and foot of Aorun zhaoi. view more

Credit: University of the Witwatersrand

A new species of theropod, or meat-eating dinosaur, an ancient ancestor of today's birds, has been named by newly appointed Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute Senior Researcher Dr. Jonah Choiniere and a team of international researchers.

The study about the find, which has been two years in the making, appears in the 3 May 2013 online edition of the prestigious scholarly publication Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

The dinosaur, discovered in a remote region of Xinjiang, northwestern China, is named Aorun zhaoi, after the Dragon King in the Chinese epic tale Journey to the West.

The new dinosaur is estimated to have been a little over one meter long and probably weighed about 1.5 kilograms. It wasn't necessarily a small dinosaur species, though, because Aorun was still a youngster when it became a fossil.

"We were able to look at microscopic details of Aorun's bones and they showed that the animal was less than a year old when it died on the banks of a stream," says Choiniere.

Aorun lived more than 161 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic Period. Its small, numerous teeth suggest that it would have eaten prey like lizards and small relatives of today's mammals and crocodilians.

"The new discovery is another great example of the rich dinosaur diversity of the Late Jurassic of northwestern China," says Xu Xing, the leader of the Chinese side of the research team.

The specimen was discovered by Choiniere's former supervisor, Professor James M. Clark of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg. We were completely surprised to find a skull buried in the rock too," says Clark.

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Jonah Choiniere grew up near Boston in the USA, on a 1000 hectare wildlife sanctuary, where he became interested in natural history. He completed an undergraduate degree with honours in Anthropology and another undergraduate degree with honours in Geology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

He completed his PhD at the George Washington University, studying meat-eating dinosaurs from China. During the course of his PhD he participated in six summers of field work in China. After a postdoctoral research fellowship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he worked in the Gobi desert of Mongolia searching for dinosaurs, he joined the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits in September 2012, where he is the Senior Researcher in Dinosaur Palaeontology.

Currently one of the many things he is working on is researching the Elliot Formation of South Africa.


For media enquiries contact:

Dr. Jonah Choiniere
Wits Evolutionary Sciences Institute
Tel: +27 11 717-6684
Cell: +27 79 906 3169

For images of the dinosaur contact:

Vivienne Rowland
Senior Communications Officer
Wits Communications
Tel: +27 11 717-1017

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