Earth Notes: Utah’s King of Gore

Mar 5, 2014

A dinosaur recently found in southern Utah has reshaped paleontologists’ ideas of the fierce group of carnivores known as tyrannosaurs.

Lythronax argestes, the great uncle of the famed T. rex.
Credit Natural History Museum of Ut

It was one of those lucky finds. In 2009, Scott Richardson of Flagstaff was working for the Bureau of Land Management in a remote section of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument north of Lake Powell. He spied some bones jutting from the rock, and called Alan Titus, the park’s paleontologist.

They quickly knew they’d found something big, and important. With a team from the University of Utah, they spent the rest of the season unearthing the find. It turned out to be an animal that had died in a pond about 80 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period.

After another three years of lab work and comparison, Lythronax argestes was unveiled last fall. It stood 8 feet tall, was 24 feet long, and weighed two and half tons — and it was covered with scales and feathers! A full-sized replica is on exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City.

Lythronax translates to King of Gore. It wasn’t just huge. The carnivore’s skull bristled with large teeth to shred whatever was around to eat. It’s also called the “great uncle” of Tyrannosaurus rex, because it roamed the land at least 10 million years earlier than the famous T. rex.

Important it is, but Lythronax is only one of about 20 dinosaurs unearthed so far in Grand Staircase. It’s a place rich in revelations every time someone looks.