Like most known tyrannosaurids, Gorgosaurus was a bipedal predator weighing more than two metric tons as an adult; dozens of large, sharp teeth lined its jaws, while its two-fingered forelimbs were comparatively small. Gorgosaurus was most closely related to Albertosaurus, and more distantly related to the larger Tyrannosaurus. Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus are extremely similar, distinguished mainly by subtle differences in the teeth and skull bones. Some experts consider G. libratus to be a species of Albertosaurus; this would make Gorgosaurus a junior synonym of that genus.
Gorgosaurus lived in a lush floodplain environment along the edge of an inland sea. It was an apex predator (meaning that it was at the top of its food chain), preying upon abundant ceratopsids and hadrosaurs. In some areas, Gorgosaurus coexisted with another tyrannosaurid, Daspletosaurus. Although these animals were roughly the same size, there is some evidence of niche differentiation between the two. Gorgosaurus is the best-represented tyrannosaurid in the fossil record, known from dozens of specimens. These plentiful remains have allowed scientists to investigate its ontogeny, life history and other aspects of its biology.
Gorgosaurus was smaller than Tyrannosaurus or Tarbosaurus, closer in size to Albertosaurus and Daspletosaurus. Adults reached 8 to 9 m (26 to 30 ft) from snout to tail. Paleontologists have estimated full-grown adults to weigh more than 2.4 tonnes (2.6 short tons), perhaps approaching 2.8 tonnes (3.1 short tons). The largest known skull measures 99 cm (39 in) long, just slightly smaller than that of Daspletosaurus. As in other tyrannosaurids, the skull was large compared to its body size, although chambers within the skull bones and large openings (fenestrae) between bones reduced its weight. Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus share proportionally longer and lower skulls than Daspletosaurus and other tyrannosaurids. The end of the snout was blunt, and the nasal and parietal bones were fused along the midline of the skull, as in all other members of the family. The eye socket was circular rather than oval or keyhole-shaped as in other tyrannosaurid genera. A tall crest rose from the lacrimal bone in front of each eye, similar to Albertosaurus and Daspletosaurus. Differences in the shape of bones surrounding the brain set Gorgosaurus apart from Albertosaurus.
Gorgosaurus teeth were typical of all known tyrannosaurids. The eight premaxillary teeth at the front of the snout were smaller than the rest, closely packed and D-shaped in cross section. In Gorgosaurus, the first tooth in the maxilla was also shaped like the premaxillary teeth. The rest of the teeth were oval in cross section, rather than blade-like as in most other theropods. Along with the eight premaxillary teeth, Gorgosaurus had 26 to 30 maxillary teeth and 30 to 34 teeth in the dentary bones of the lower jaw. This number of teeth is similar to Albertosaurus and Daspletosaurus but is fewer than those of Tarbosaurus or Tyrannosaurus.
Gorgosaurus shared its general body plan with all other tyrannosaurids. Its massive head was perched on the end of an S-shaped neck. In contrast to its large head, its forelimbs were very small. The forelimbs had only two digits, although a third metacarpal is known in some specimens, the vestigial remains of the third digit seen in other theropods. Gorgosaurus had four digits on each hindlimb, including a small first toe (hallux) which did not contact the ground. Tyrannosaurid hindlimbs were long relative to overall body size compared with other theropods. The largest known Gorgosaurus femur measured 105 cm (41 in) long. In several smaller specimens of Gorgosaurus, the tibia was longer than the femur, a proportion typical of fast-running animals. The two bones were of equal length in the largest specimens. The long, heavy tail served as a counterweight to the head and torso and placed the center of gravity over the hips.
In 2001, paleontologist Phil Currie reported skin impressions from the holotype specimen of G. libratus. He originally reported the skin as being smooth and lacking the scales found in other dinosaurs; similar to the secondarily featherless skin found in large modern birds. However, this original interpretation was found to be an exaggeration based on the relatively fine scalation of the Gorgosaurus skin impression (approximately as fine as a Gila monster's). In the Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs Kenneth Carpenter pointed out that traces of skin impressions from the tail of Gorgosaurus showed similar small rounded or hexagonal scales.
Classification and systematicsEdit
Gorgosaurus is classified in the theropod subfamily Albertosaurinae within the family Tyrannosauridae. It is most closely related to the slightly younger Albertosaurus. These are the only two definite albertosaurine genera that have been described, although other undescribed species may exist. Appalachiosaurus was described as a basal tyrannosauroid just outside Tyrannosauridae, although American paleontologist Thomas Holtz published a phylogenetic analysis in 2004 which indicated it was an albertosaurine. More recent, unpublished work by Holtz agrees with the original assessment. All other tyrannosaurid genera, including Daspletosaurus, Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, are classified in the subfamily Tyrannosaurinae. Compared to the tyrannosaurines, albertosaurines had slender builds, with proportionately smaller, lower skulls and longer bones of the lower leg (tibia) and feet (metatarsals and phalanges).
The close similarities between Gorgosaurus libratus and Albertosaurus sarcophagus have led many experts to combine them into one genus over the years. Albertosaurus was named first, so by convention it is given priority over the name Gorgosaurus, which is sometimes considered its junior synonym. William Diller Matthew and Barnum Brown doubted the distinction of the two genera as early as 1922. Gorgosaurus libratus was formally reassigned to Albertosaurus (as Albertosaurus libratus) by Dale Russell in 1970, and many subsequent authors followed his lead. Combining the two greatly expands the geographical and chronological range of the genus Albertosaurus. Other experts maintain the two genera as separate. Canadian paleontologist Phil Currie claims there are as many anatomical differences between Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus as there are between Daspletosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, which are almost always kept separate. He also notes that undescribed tyrannosaurids discovered in Alaska, New Mexico and elsewhere in North America may help clarify the situation. Gregory S. Paul has suggested that Gorgosaurus libratus is ancestral to Albertosaurus sarcophagus.
Below is the cladogram of Tyrannosauridae based on the phylogenetic analysis conducted by Loewen et al. in 2013. Template:Clade