Sauroniops: The Tyrannosaurus-sized dinosaur named after the Lord of the Rings villain
Some 95 million years ago, a two-legged dinosaur even larger than the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex skulked the deltas of North Africa looking for its next meal. The newly categorized and christened Sauroniops pachytholus — or "Eye of Sauron" in Greek — gets its name from the omniscient demon who stared knowingly over Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films.
So how exactly did Sauroniops earn its name? The only fossil unearthed of the flesh-eater so far is a tiny upper-skull fragment that's part of the dino's massive eye socket. "The idea of a predator that is physically known only as its fierce eye reminded me of Sauron, in particular as depicted in Peter Jackson's movies," study leader Andrea Cau, a researcher at Italy's Museum Geologico Giovanni Capellini, tells National Geographic. "The skull bone of Sauroniops is very broad and particularly thick: This suggests an animal as big as Tyrannosaurus," says Cau — perhaps as large as 40 feet in length.
But that isn't all Cau and her team have been able to glean from the small skull fragment. It's clear that Sauroniops also possessed a prominent bump on its head. In other examples of theropods, "bumps, knobs, and horns are common forms of ornamentation," says Brian Switek at Smithsonian Magazine. Cau thinks the dome might have been used in "head-butting [mating] behavior."
It's also likely Sauroniops had a lot of competition at the top of the food chain, despite having "dozens of bladelike teeth," notes Cau. The domed carnivore probably competed with three other giant, bipedal meat-eaters that inhabited the same region. "Sauroniops lived along the banks of a large delta, under a hot and warm climate, very rich of fishes and crocodiles," said Cau. "The abundance of food may explain the abundance of predatory dinosaurs."