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Scientists Discover a New Species of Dinosaur in Northern China

Update Date: May 03, 2013 02:42 PM EDT

Though the dinosaurs have long stopped roaming the Earth, it seems like we are still getting to know them. Researchers from George Washington University have found a fossil from a previously unknown species of dinosaur. The fossil was found in what is now northwestern China.

The researchers have named the species Aorun zhaoi, to commemorate the Dragon King depicted in the epic Chinese tale, Journey to the West. The fossils were found in 2006, in the isolated area of Xinjiang.

Researchers were able to recover the skull, mandible and pieces of the skeleton of the species. It was a small creature, estimated to be about one meter, or about three feet, in length and to weigh three pounds.

"All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg," Dr. James Clark, the Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of Biology at George Washington University, said in a statement. "We were pleasantly surprised to find a skull buried in the rock too."

Though the animal may seem small, researchers are hesitant to classify its species as a small one. The fossils belong to a very young creature.

"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," Jonah Choiniere, who was Dr. Clark's doctoral student at the time of the discovery and who is now a senior researcher at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, stated.

The species of animal is classified as a theropod, which means that it ate meat. The aorun is believed to have lived over 161 million years ago, at the beginning of the Late Jurassic Period. Its teeth, which are small and numerous, suggest that it would have preyed on small animals like lizards.

The study was published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

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