Albertavenator curriei was a feathered dinosaur now identified

Albertavenator curriei illustration (Image courtesy Oliver Demuth)
Albertavenator curriei illustration (Image courtesy Oliver Demuth)

An article published in the journal “Canadian Journal of Earth Science” describes the identification of a new species of bird-like dinosaur. Called Albertavenator Curriei, it belongs to the troodontid family and lived in today’s Alberta, Canada, about 71 million years ago. The name of the species was chosen by the Royal Ontario Museum and the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum’s scientists after the famous Canadian paleontologist Philip J. Currie.

Albertavenator Curriei’s bones were found in the 1980s in the fossil deposit called “Horseshoe Canyon Formation” near which the Royal Tyrrell Museum was built in the 1980s, also thanks to Philip J. Currie. Paleontologists attributed the bones to another known species of feathered dinosaur, Troodon inequalis, which lived about 5 million years earlier.

Luckily for the paleontologists who reexamined them, among the bones found there were enough skull pieces to understand that it was shorter and stronger than that of Troodon inequalis. However, detailed anatomical and statistical comparisons between the skull bones discovered and those of Troodon inequalis were conducted to distinguish the two species. The problem is well-known in the field: the fossils uncovered are fragmented and this makes it difficult to identify a species.

In the case of feathered dinosaurs of the troodontid (Troodontidae) family, hundreds of isolated teeth have been found in Alberta that have been attributed to Troodon inequalis, but the new fossils have very similar teeth so they don’t help to understand what species they belong to.

Eventually, scientists determined that the new species belongs to the troodontid family but to a genus other than Troodon. In Alberta it’s tradition to include the name of the state in the names of dinosaurs’ Troodontidae and together with Currie came Albertavenator curriei.

Albertavenator Curriei had a height that probably went between 90 and 150 centimeters for a weight that could possibly reach 60 kilograms. For more accurate estimates they need to find a more complete skeleton. The scientists who identified this species stress the importance of re-examining fossils present in museums sometimes for decades, because this is only the latest of many cases where paleontologists have discovered new species that way.

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