What’s three meters long, was very fast on its legs and used to haunt the late Jurassic forest which is today, the as North-Western China? It was, the ‘crown dragon’ aka, the Guanlong. A Tyrannosauroidea of the Proceratosauridae family.
Even though the name may sound unfamiliar, and a little too scientific, you must’ve seen them, in the numerous dinosaur based movies. Right from the Jurassic Park, to King Kong. They were those medium built dinosaurs, who used to run in herds, and more often than not, attack dinosaurs way bigger in size than them.
It may come as a surprise, that though the Guanlong, has been considered by many scientists, to be the earliest known ancestor of the terrifying Tyrannosaurus, yet, it lived on long after even when all the other dinosaurs had become extinct due to the meteor that had hit earth at that point of time.
A search for oil, unearthed the fossil of the dinosaur instead, in the north western Chinese desert recently. A team from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology, China was instrumental in identifying this 160 million old species, that roamed the lands of China. The team, was headed by Xing Xu and assisted by Prof. James M. Clark from the George Washington university.
The earliest instance of a Guanlong fossil discovery, was as recent as in the year 2002. Discovered by Tu Tyu in Junggar Basin, Xinjiang, the conclusion as to how the two dinosaurs must’ve died, is very interesting. Two specimens were found, and apparently, the first one, which was a 7 year old, had got trapped in the muddy footprint of a huge herbivore dinosaur. It was then, crushed by a bigger, 12 year old Guanlong, when it fell into the exact same spot!
The Guanlong, is also a fantastic case study in evolution. How did, a relatively puny, ten feet long dinosaur, evolve into a forty two feet long raging monster called the Tyrannosaurus? Now that’s baffling, isn’t it?
One of the specimen of the fossil, has been preserved in the Australian museum. Even if you can’t go personally to the museum, the website, offers you a chance to click a picture with the specimen, via it’s official app. One specimen is also housed in the Natural history museum in London, that offers visitors a chance, to travel back to the Jurassic age.
The original skeleton, however, is located at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in China.
The Guanlong, dispels the age old myth, that a bigger head, means a bigger and better brain. From what the scientists have been able to ascertain, the Guanlong were efficient predators, skilled in the art of complex, strategic attacks. Something, any careless dinosaur witnessed firsthand, who made the mistake of underestimating their prowess as hunters.
The Guanlong had a crest on its head. Something, from which it also derives its name. Now, what was the purpose of the crest? It’s something that has amazed the scientists for years. Some say, that it was used for interacting amongst themselves.
However, a more popular theory suggests, that they were unable to develop good eyesight, and thus, used the crest to detect thermal heat and hunt down their prey. However, much of the information, is derived from only two of the fossils that were found. One of the adult, and another, of a developing kind. One of the most striking features was, that the crest on the head of the adult, was three times bigger than that on the head of the developing Guanlong.
Unlike it’s descendants, the Guanlong had three fingers on its hand, and also, may’ve developed a thick coat of birdlike feathers. Another trait was added to the Guanlong, depending on the multi-hued five colors of the badland where it was found. It’s complete name is “Guanlong Wucaii’’ where wucaii literally stands for ‘five colors.’
In recent times, the popular animated movie, Ice age, popularized this relatively unknown dinosaur.
The Guanlong, perhaps, is the only dinosaur, that bears a close resemblance to both lizards, as well as birds. It has the same backbone as a lizard although, it doesn’t look like one.
The Guanlong, re- emphasizes upon the evolution tactics employed by the nature. Time and again, numerous permutations and combinations of genes keep taking place. Some combinations prove to be healthy, while others, prove to be fatal to the species. The successful ones, however, become better and stronger.
Maybe this, explains the metamorphosis of this little dinosaur, into the monstrous tyrannosaurus.
The very fact, that the Guanlong’s history is so much shrouded within the veils of mystery, makes this species so alluring and fascinating. While all the other dinosaurs have found ample screen space in monster movies and creature features, the Guanlong, has always maintained a low profile. Imagine, it’s entire knowledge has been derived from just two fossils! Now that’s fascinating. Good things, do come in small sizes.
Just for fun we have a soundclip available for you to hear what a Guanlong could've sounded like. Click to the Dinosaur Sounds area to hear it. Please note that the dinosaur sounds are only for entertainment and are not an actual fact.