Researchers Discover New 'Pinocchio Rex' Dinosaur

The 29-foot-long beast stalked Asia more than 66 million years ago, scientists say.

An artist's concept shows two Qianzhousaurus dinosaurs hunting: one chasing a small feathered dinosaur called Nankangia, the other eating a lizard. The Qianzhousaurus, nicknamed Pinocchio rex for its narrow snout, likely fed on small prey 66 million years ago.

An artist's concept shows two Qianzhousaurus dinosaurs hunting: one chasing a small feathered dinosaur called Nankangia, the other eating a lizard. The Qianzhousaurus, nicknamed Pinocchio rex for its narrow snout, likely fed on small prey 66 million years ago.

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This was one nosy dinosaur.

Meet “Pinocchio rex,” the long-snouted carnivore that construction workers dug up outside the city of Ganzhou in southern China.

The dino, officially named Qianzhousaurus sinensis, “looked a little comical,” acknowledged Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh, who helped study the dinosaur. But make no mistake, this animal was no Disney character.  

The Qianzhousaurus had an elongated snout and long, narrow teeth.
The Qianzhousaurus had an elongated snout and long, narrow teeth.

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"This is a different breed of tyrannosaur,” said Brusatte in a statement. “It has the familiar toothy grin of T. rex, but its snout was much longer and it had a row of horns on its nose. It might have looked a little comical, but it would have been as deadly as any other tyrannosaur, and maybe even a little faster and stealthier."

Measuring 29 feet long and weighing 1,800 pounds, it stalked the earth more than 66 million years ago, likely eating smaller prey such as lizards, plant-eating vegetarian dinosaurs, and feathered, egg-devouring dinosaurs called oviraptors.

"These discoveries are always exciting because they help us understand the relationships between the tyrannosaurs, the dominant predators in Asia and North America during the later Cretaceous," Tony Fiorillo, of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, told National Geographic.

The Pinocchio rex skeleton, he added, is “a very interesting and unusual specimen” – and not merely because of its appearance. Before this latest discovery, just two previous tyrannosaurs with elongated heads had been found, both of them juveniles. It hadn’t been clear whether they represented an entirely new kind of dinosaur, or were part of a known species and merely died during a growth phase while their skulls were still forming. 

Junchang Lu, left, and Steve Brusatte, who together identified the new dinosaur species, stand at the site where its bones were discovered.
Junchang Lu, left, and Steve Brusatte, who together identified the new dinosaur species, stand at the site where its bones were discovered.

The newly-found Qianzhousaurus, though, was nearing adulthood, and it was found almost entirely intact and remarkably well-preserved – likely due to a dirt pile that covered the dinosaur shortly after it died.

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"The new discovery is very important,” said Junchang Lu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, which partnered with Edinburgh in the study. “Along with Alioramus from Mongolia, it shows that the long-snouted tyrannosaurids were widely distributed in Asia. 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."

The study, funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Science Foundation, was published in the journal Nature Communications.