Predatory Dino Ruled North America
“Stay tuned: There are a lot more cool critters where Siats came from.”
— Lindsay Zanno
By Tim Peeler
In an indigenous tribe of North America, the siats was a cannibalistic monster that lured children away from their parents and ate them in the wilderness.
A terrifying myth, right?
But it’s not nearly as scary as an encounter with the quite real newly discovered dinosaur that bears the same name, Siats meekerorum, discovered by NC State paleontologist Lindsay Zanno and research partner Peter Makovicky of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, in the dusty hills of the Cedar Mountain Formation in eastern Utah.
Since the first bone fragments were found in 2008, Zanno has led three field expeditions to dig in the giant dino graveyard, excavating and studying the remains of a 30-foot-long, four-ton beast that roamed the lush land nearly 100 million years ago. Siats (pronounced see-atch) was the biggest meat-eating predator of its time, dwarfing much smaller tyrannosaurs for millions of years until Siats’ relatives went extinct sometime in the Late Cretaceous period.
Zanno, who also serves as the director of the Paleontology and Geology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, was the lead author in a paper published in the online journal Nature Communications in November 2013, immediately filling a 60-million-year biodiversity gap in the fossil record and identifying Siats as the top of the food chain during its reign in North America.
Zanno named the dinosaur in honor of both the Ute legend and the Meeker family of Winnetka, Ill., generous supporters of young paleontologists at the Field Museum. Her team received additional support from the Field Museum, the Field Museum Women’s Board and the National Science Foundation.
Over the next few years, Zanno expects to announce multiple new species of smaller — but no less important — dinosaurs that were contemporaries of Siats that she and her team have discovered in the massive dino graveyard in Utah.
“We hope to be able to bring to light more of what this lost ecosystem looked like,” Zanno says. “Stay tuned: There are a lot more cool critters where Siats came from.”