March 22, 2021

Recently discovered Alberta tyrannosaur, the 'Reaper of Death,' gets its own coin

Royal Canadian Mint coin features dinosaur identified by UCalgary paleontologists

A newly discovered species of dinosaur with a name worthy of Jurassic Park has been immortalized in a silver coin from the Royal Canadian Mint.

Thanatotheristes degrootorum, Greek for Reaper of Death, was identified as a unique species by a team of paleontologists that included UCalgary Faculty of Science’s Dr. Darla Zelenitsky, MSc’95, PhD’04, the university’s principal dinosaur researcher and associate professor in the Department of Geoscience, and Jared Voris, MSc’19, Zelentisky’s PhD student.

  • Photo above: Julius Csotonyi, who worked on the official illustration of the Reaper of Death (shown left), also drew the design for the coin, both of which emphasize the upper ridges on the dinosaur’s jaw, a key distinguishing feature of the tyrannosaur. Photos by Julius Csotonyi and the Royal Canadian Mint

“It’s really cool, and having it happen so early in my career was really interesting,” says Voris of the discovery.

He says it’s great to see the newly found dinosaur receive such mainstream attention, and he hopes that having more public outreach projects, such as coins, will inspire younger people to consider studying paleontology.

Voris says the discovery of Thanatotheristes is noteworthy as it is the oldest tyrannosaur in Canada, and it could help uncover the origins of more famous tyrannosaurs like T. rex.

Zelenitsky says the Mint reached out to the Royal Tyrrell Museum to see if it would be possible to produce a coin featuring the Reaper of Death. Dr. François Therrien, PhD, curator of dinosaur palaeoecology and a member of the team, served as the scientific adviser on the project once it was approved.

Jaw ridges are distinguishing feature

The coin itself was designed by Julius Csotonyi, the artist who also produced the official illustration of the dinosaur featured in the paper the team of paleontologists published announcing the discovery. Voris says Csotonyi did a good job of capturing the likeness of the Reaper of Death.

“It’s similar to what the animal would have looked like in life,” he says.

Voris also says the artist excelled in emphasizing the ridges on the upper jaw of the dinosaur, which is one of the key distinguishing features of Thanatotheristes. He says you don’t see those ridges in any other North American tyrannosaur except T. rex, meaning the two dinosaurs could be related.

Voris says they don’t yet know what purpose those ridges may have served, but he has played around with the idea of them being some sort of display feature that could have been used to attract mates.

Zelenitsky says the team ended up receiving three coins to split up among themselves. The coin ended up selling out within a few days of being posted on the Mint’s website at $109.95 each.

Milestones and memorabilia

The Reaper of Death is the second milestone of UCalgary science research to be honoured by the Mint in the last few years, following a coin commemorating the STEVE celestial phenomenon in 2019. Zelenitsky says this speaks to the high-quality and high-impact work professors and students are doing in the Faculty of Science.

Voris says the university has become a centre for new and innovative research that better helps us understand the world.

“This helps us show the university is continuing to increase our knowledge of the world, both past and present,” he says.

Voris adds the discovery and the coin reveal how connected paleontology and the public are, since the Reaper of Death fossils were initially found by John De Groot, a local rancher, as he and his family were walking along the Bow River.

I think this highlights how important the public is, especially in Alberta, to making some of these paleontological discoveries because there are more eyes on the ground with people spending time outdoors in places where fossils may be found.

- Jared Voris

The coin is only the latest piece of memorabilia paying tribute to the Reaper of Death. Zelenitsky says the Medicine Hat Brewing Company has also made a beer named after the dinosaur.

Zelenitsky says having the coin sell out within a few days is a testament to the popularity of paleontology and dinosaurs in Canada.

“People love dinosaurs, they love new dinosaurs, and they love big, meat-eating dinosaurs,” Zelenitsky says.