CLAREMONT, Calif., Oct. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A chance find by a high school student led to the youngest, smallest and most complete fossil skeleton yet known from the iconic tube-crested dinosaur Parasaurolophus. The discovery, announced by the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools, shows that the prehistoric plant-eater sprouted its strange headgear before it celebrated its first birthday.
The fossil skeleton was discovered in 2009 by high school student Kevin Terris, within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Incredibly, the specimen was missed by professional paleontologists, who walked within feet of the exposed bones before their discovery. "At first I was interested in seeing what the initial piece of bone sticking out of the rock was," commented Terris. "When we exposed the skull, I was ecstatic!" Excavation and subsequent cleaning of the fossil, nicknamed "Joe" after a long-time supporter of the Alf Museum, revealed the skeleton of a baby dinosaur measuring only six feet long when it died.
Detailed study of the skeleton identified it as the most complete specimen yet known for Parasaurolophus, a duck-billed (hadrosaurid) dinosaur that lived throughout western North America around 75 million years ago. The herbivore is notable for a long and hollow bony tube on the top of its skull, which scientists speculate was used like a trumpet to blast sound for communication, as well as a billboard for visual display. Although partial skulls and skeletons of full-grown Parasaurolophus have been known for over 90 years, scientists previously knew little about how Parasaurolophus grew up.
The new fossil shows that baby Parasaurolophus had a low bump on top of its head, which only later morphed into the curved tube of adults. "Our baby Parasaurolophus is barely one-quarter of adult size, but it had already started growing its crest," stated lead project scientist Andrew Farke, Augustyn Family Curator at the Alf Museum. "This is surprising, because related dinosaurs didn't sprout their ornamentation until they were at least half-grown." Microscopic analysis of a leg bone shows that the animal was under a year old when it died.
The study describing the new fossil was published in the scientific journal PeerJ, and the specimen is on exhibit at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California. Researchers who co-authored the study included Andrew Farke (Alf Museum), Sarah Werning (UC Berkeley and Stony Brook University), and high school students Derek Chok, Annisa Herrero, and Brandon Scolieri (The Webb Schools). The fossil was collected under permit from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Bureau of Land Management, Utah. A dedicated website, complete with 3D scans of the fossil, is at http://www.dinosaurjoe.org.
SOURCE Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools
- The Webb Schools