Category Archives: dinosaur

Arnold Schwarzenegger of duck-billed dinos – Gryposaurus monumentensis

The newest dinosaur species to emerge from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument had some serious bite, according to researchers from the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

“It was one of the most robust duck-billed dinosaurs ever,” said museum paleontologist Terry Gates, who is also with the U.’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. “It was a monster.”

Researchers from the Utah museum, the national monument and California’s Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology unearthed fossils of this ancient plant-eater from the rocks of the Kaiparowits Formation and say it dates to the Late Cretaceous Period 75 million years ago. They announced the name of the creature, Gryposaurus monumentensis, in the Oct. 3 issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Gryposaurus means “hook-beaked lizard” and monumentensis honors the monument where the fossils were found.

gryposaur_art.jpg
Artistic rendering by Larry Felder

Gryposaurus monumentensis is probably the largest dinosaur in the 75-million-year-old Kaiparowits fossil ecosystem,” said Alan Titus, paleontologist for the national monument.

Gates, lead author on the study, explained that this creature could have eaten just about any vegetation it stumbled across. “With its robust jaws, no plant stood a chance against G. monumentensis,” he said.

Scott Sampson, another paleontologist with the Utah museum who was involved with the project, emphasized the massively-built skull and skeleton, referring to the animal as the “Arnold Schwarzenegger of duck-billed dinosaurs.”

In 2002, a team from the Alf Museum, in Claremont, Calif., located at the Webb School, discovered the site that contained the skull used to describe the new creature. Every summer, the California institution, the only nationally-accredited paleontology museum on a high school campus, gives Webb students and volunteers the chance to participate in scientific field work.

The California team was working a stretch of Grand Staircase that Utah researchers had not examined. Duncan Everhart, a Pennsylvania furniture maker, is credited with finding the skull.

Don Lofgren, curator of the Alf Museum, said the team received permission from the monument to dig deeper in 2003.

“We determined it was a skull sitting upside down with the jaw on top,” he said.

Once Gates went out to take a look in 2004, he quickly realized the California team had a potentially-important find. The Alf Museum gave the Utah researchers permission to prepare and study the skull.

Titus noted the discovery of this new species was a team effort involving the Alf Museum, the Utah Museum of Natural History and the national monument.

“The cooperative effort put into its collection and research has truly been a model for scientific investigation on public lands,” he said.

It wasn’t until Utah researchers began working on the skull in 2005 that the full significance of the find began to emerge, Gates said.gryposaur_skull.jpg

The well-preserved skull was initially missing key pieces from the nose region. Fortunately, the California museum had collected a box full of eroded bones, including bits of the nose bone, which was critical for identifying the creature.

“I knew immediately that we had some species of Gryposaurus,” Gates said.

The creature’s large number of teeth embedded in the thick skull is among the features that made G. monumentensis, as well as other closely related duck-billed dinosaurs, such a successful herbivore.

At any given time, the dinosaur had over 300 teeth available to slice up plant material. Inside the jaw bone, there were numerous replacement teeth waiting, meaning that at any moment, this Gryposaur may have carried more than 800 teeth.

“It was capable of eating most any plant it wanted to,” Gates said. “Although much more evidence is needed before we can hypothesize on its dietary preferences.”

While the diet is unknown, given the considerable size of the creature, the massive teeth and jaws are thought to have been used to slice up large amounts of tough, fibrous plant material.

The teeth may hold important clues the dinosaur’s eating habits. The Utah museum plans to study the composition of the dinosaur teeth, which when compared to other plant-eating dinosaurs from the Kaiparowits Formation, will help researchers decipher differences in diet.

G. monumentensis is one of several new dinosaur species found in Grand Staircase, including: a Velociraptor-like carnivore named Hagryphus, a tyrannosaur, and several kinds of horned dinosaurs. In all, more than a dozen kinds of dinosaurs have been recovered from these badlands, and most represent species that are new to science.

“This is a brand new and extremely important window into the world of dinosaurs,” said Sampson.

Under ideal circumstances, paleontologists will find the skull and other key bones at the same site. In this case, the head was the only thing they managed to find from where the Alf team searched.

Researchers believe the head of this particular Gryposaur likely rolled into a bend of a river, where it was partly buried. The right half of the head remained exposed to the river current, dislodging several bones before this side was buried as well.

In other parts of the monument, Utah researchers have excavated bones believed to be from the same species. Gates estimates G. monumentensis may have grown up to 30 feet long as an adult.

“As each new find such as this new Gryposaur is made,” Titus said, “it is placed into the greater context of an entire ecosystem that has remained lost for eons, and is only now coming under scientific scrutiny.”

Around 75 million years ago, southern Utah differed dramatically from today’s arid desert and redrock country. During much of the Late Cretaceous, a shallow sea split North America down the middle, dividing the continent into eastern and western landmasses.

In what Sampson terms “West America,” G. monumentensis and its fellow dinosaurs lived in a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the seaway to the east and rising mountains to the west. Due in large part to the presence of the seaway, the climate was moist and humid.

Thanks to more than 100 years of fossil collection, scientists know more about the Cretaceous dinosaurs from North American than they do from any other time or continent on Earth, Sampson noted.

While G. monumentensis gulped down its greens and tried to avoid predatory tyrannosaurs down in Utah, closely related but different species of duck-billed dinosaurs were doing the same thing farther north, in places like Montana and Alberta, Canada.

The new Utah species is proving crucial for determining patterns of duck-billed dinosaur evolution and ecology during the Late Cretaceous of North America, Gates said. He added that “this calls for a re-evaluation of previous ideas about the evolution of duck-billed dinosaurs across the world”.

Earlier explanations of dinosaurs undertaking long distance migrations have gone out the window. “Now we have to figure out how so many different kinds of giants managed to coexist in such small areas,” said Sampson. “We’re just beginning to unravel this story.

Bones from G. monumentensis are on display at Big Water Visitor Center in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and for a short time at the Utah Museum of Natural History before returning to the Alf Museum.

gryposaur_art2.jpg
Artistic Rendering by John Moore
gryposaur_copter.jpg
Photo: Raymond M. Alf Museum
The skull, weighing over 200 pounds, had to be air-lifted from the remote dig site by a helicopter in order to transport it to the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

The Harry Potter Dino – Dracorex hogwartsia

An exciting new species discovery, especially for Harry Potter fans, is officially on the books. It’s called Dracorex hogwartsia and is a plant eating pachycephalosaur.
Paleontologist, Dr. Robert Bakker, explains how he came up with the name:Dr Bakker

“The creature is a very special dinosaur that seems at home in a “Harry Potter” adventure. It was a plant-eater, only about as heavy as the war horse of a medieval knight. And it carried an armor-plated head of almost magical configuration, covered with knobs and spikes, horns and crests. I was staring at the skull last summer, and the name just popped into my head, hogwartsia.”

The full name, Dracorex hogwartsia, comes from the Latin words draco (meaning dragon), rex (meaning king), and hogwartsia (after the fictional Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry created by J.K. Rowling)

Author J.K. Rowling was delighted by the naming and wrote: “The naming of Dracorex hogwartsia is easily the most unexpected honour to have come my way since the publication of the Harry Potter books! I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small (claw?) mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs … I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur, which I can’t help visualising as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”

The nearly complete pachycephalosaur skull was donated to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis by Steve Saulsbury, Patrick Saulsbury and Brian Buckmeier, all from Sioux City, Iowa. The three friends found the fossil during a fossil collecting trip in the Hell Creek Formation in central South Dakota, and agreed the museum would be the perfect home for the specimen. Brought to the museum’s Paleo Prep Lab for cleaning and studying, it was little more than a box of parts, head banging dracorexshattered by erosion before its discovery. It took Victor Porter, the vertebrate paleontologist at The Children’s Museum, two years to patiently glue together the many fragments.

Fierce debates have raged about whether the pachy’s butted each other, but since no good neck bones had been found, conclusive evidence was lacking. The Children’s Museum Paleo Lab personnel scored a cretaceous triumph when they pieced together four nearly complete neck vertebrae for D. hogwartsia. Special anti-twist joints and enlarged muscle attachments seem to show that these dinosaurs indulged in violent kinetic exercises. “They were head-bangers!” said Bakker.

If you’d like to get a peek at this dino critter visit the The Children’s Museum ofdraco_museum.jpg Indianapolis where it is on display. The museum has also kindly hosted the scientific paper describing D. hogwartsia online and you can read it yourself here: Dracorex hogwartsia, n. gen., n. sp., a spiked, flat-headed pachycephalosaurid dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. [pdf]

Don’t forget to check out thier page dedicated to D. hogwartsia, there’s a video of the unveiling and lots of pictures. (best viewed in IE) and you can also buy a cool t-shirt.

dracorex

New GIANT Dinosaur – Puertasaurus reuili

Puertasaurus reuili is the newly named gigantic sauropod that was discovered in Argentina. National Geographic has the full story: Giant Dinosaur Discovered in Argentina. They also published five images related to the story.

Puertasaurus illustrated with other dinosaurs
Lead researcher, Fernando Novas, named the titanosaur after the fossil-hunters, Pablo Puerto and Santiago Reuil, who found and prepared the fossil.

His paper, Giant titanosaur (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia [pdf], was published in the Journal of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences.Puertasaurus fossil

The Hairy Museum of Natural History has an excellent blog post discussing the massive size of P. reuili and comparing it to the mythical Amphicoelias fragillimus.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Infraorder: Sauropoda
Family: Titanosauridae
Genus: Puertasaurus

If you like sauropods you may be interested in two other recently described dinosaurs: the mini Europasaurus holgeri, and the long necked Erketu ellisoni

(Illustration and photo: Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences PR)

“Mini” Dino Found in Germany – Europasaurus holgeri

A dwarf sauropod has recently been described by paleontologists. Holger Luedtke, a paleontology hobbyist first came across teeth and other remains of a herbivorous dinosaur in a quarry near in North Germany in 1998.

At the time, scientists thought they may be juveniles. However, Dr. Martin Sander, who is an expert on the micro-structure of dinosaur skeletons, studied the bones and concluded that they were adults. In short, he was able to measure rings of growth in the bones. Rings are spaced further apart when the dinosaurs are young and growing rapidly. As they age the space between the rings becomes smaller.

When first found the dino was nicknamed ‘Hanna’, but has now been given the new and official scientific name Europasaurus holgeri, in honor of its discoverer. It essentially means Holger’s reptile of Europe.

So how mini was it? Well, the diagram below shows it was still pretty big compared to a human. But it was quite tiny when compared to one of its closest cousins the Apatosaurus (aka Brontosaurus) who was among the largest land animals that ever existed.

The paper describing the new species was published in Nature.

Europasaurus holgeri
Models and photo: Dinopark Münchehagen.

Europasaurus holgeri diagram
Diagram depicting the relative size between two E. holgeri (juvenile and adult) and a human by Octávio Mateus, Museu da Lourinhã

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Genus: Europasaurus

Check out another recently described sauropod, Erketu ellisoni.

A Pack of Huge Meat Eating Dinos Found – Mapusaurus roseae

Here’s some BIG dino news for you! Fossils of a new giant carnivore have been found in Argentina. Interestingly, a group of the animals were found together leading researchers to believe they may have hunted in packs.

Paleontologists Rodolfo Coria and Philip Currie recently published their discovery of Mapusaurus roseae in Geodiversitas, A new carcharodontosaurid (Dinosauria,Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous of Argentina. [pdf]

Now the question is, who was bigger – Mapusaurus, Giganotosaurus, or Spinosaurus?

The genus name, Mapusaurus, means “Earth Reptile”. It comes from the Mapuche word for earth, mapu. The Mapuches are an indigenous people of Patagonia.

The species name, roseae refers to the rose colored rocks that surround the site where the fossils were found, and to Rose Letwin who sponsored expeditions that lead to the discovery.

Mapusaurus.jpg

(photo by Rodolfo Coria)

There are many sites reporting on this discovery. Here are links to a few.

CTV.ca News: Dig finds largest known carnivorous dinosaur.
NewScientist
Giant dino-predators may have hunted in packs
Express News, Uni of Alberta: Huge meat-eating dinosaur uncovered

Lastly, here’s some Mapusaurus inspired Art at DeviantArt

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
Infraorder: Carnosauria
Family: Carcharodontosauridae
Subfamily: Giganotosaurinae
Genus: Mapusaurus

Giant, bird-like Raptor – Hagryphus giganteus

Scientists from the University of Utah and the Utah Museum of Natural History have discovered the remains of a new bird-like, meat-eating dinosaur in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah.

The new dinosaur was formally named Hagryphus giganteus, which means “giant four-footed, bird-like god of the western desert” in reference to the animal’s outward resemblance to a large land bird, its giant stature, and its discovery in the Utah desert.

hagryphus_handOnly the hands and feet of Hagryphus were found, but the scientists were able to use the animal’s close relatives in Asia to estimate it to be around 7 feet tall! It is a member of the oviraptorosaurs, a group of bird-like feathered dinosaurs with toothless beaks, powerful arms and formidable claws. They are thought by some paleontologists to have been omnivorous, feeding on a mixture of meat and plants.

The scientific paper naming and describing this critter was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, A new Oviraptorosaur (Theropoda, Maniraptora) from the Late Cretaceous (Campanian) of Utah (abstract only).

CNN also has a video interview with the paleontologists available online.

Hagryphus giganteus

(Illustration by Michael W. Skrepnick)

DID YOU KNOW: Oviraptorosaur means “egg-thief,” because their remains were discovered in close association with nests of dinosaur eggs, and it was thought that the raptors were eating the eggs. In more recent years, however, eggs have been found with remains of baby oviraptors inside. The adult oviraptors turn out to have been sitting on the nests, brooding the eggs just as birds do today. Thus, it appears that the adult oviraptors were protecting their future babies rather than devouring them! Nevertheless, the name has stuck.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
Infraorder: Coelurosauria
Maniraptora
Oviraptoriformes
Oviraptorosauria

A tiny new dinosaur – Juravenator starki

Juravenator starki is a small carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Late Jurassic discovered in what is now Germany. What’s interesting about this little critter is that it doesn’t show signs of feathers.

Many sites are reporting on this newly announced dinosaur discovery, including:

National Geographic, Scaly New Dinosaur Creates Flap Over Feathers’ Evolution
The Age (AU), New dinosaur fossil ruffles a few feathers
Scientific American, Scaly Dino Find Complicates Feather Evolution

Juravenator starki

The researchers published their findings in Nature. You can read the first paragraph of A new carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Solnhofen archipelago and see the pictures/figures. Of course, for full access check your library!

The name Juravenator refers to the Jura Mountains of Bavaria where the fossil was found, and starki refers to the Stark family that owns the fossil-bearing limestone quarry. It was discovered about 10 years ago, but took many years to prepare because of the extremely hard limestone encasing the fossil. It had been nicknamed Borsti in German, a name commonly given to bristle-haired dogs, on the assumption the creature was endowed with bristly protofeathers.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Saurischia
Infraorder: Coelurosauria
Family: Coeluridae
Genus: Juravenator

Erketu ellisoni, the Looooooong-Necked Sauropod

How long was it? Researchers estimate Erketu ellisoni‘s neck to be around 24 feet long. Twice the size of its body!

It doesn’t have the longest neck. That record belongs to another sauropod, Mamenchisauris hochuanensis, which had a neck length estimated at 49 feet! However, E. ellisoni may now hold the record for the longest neck to body ratio.

Nature‘s article, Heads up: the dinosaur with the longest neck, gives a nice summary. But if you are feeling ambitious you can read researchers, Daniel Ksepka and Mark Norell’s full report, Erketu ellisoni, a Long-Necked Sauropod from Bor Guvé (Dornogov Aimag, Mongolia).

erketu ellisoni
(illustration by Jason Brougham)

E. ellisoni was found in Mongolia during an expedition in 2002. Unfortunatly, it was found without a head!

The meaning behind the name for this new species:
Erketu – In Mongolian shamanistic tradition, there are 99 Tengri (deities). Erketu Tengri is the Mighty Tengri, a creator-god who called Yesu gei, the father of Chingis Khan, into being.
ellisoni – In honor of Mick Ellison, for his contributions to ongoing AMNH dinosaur research.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Infraorder: Sauropoda
Division Neosauropoda
Subdivision Macronaria
Superfamily Titanosauriformes
Family: Somphospondyli