Paleontologists Discover Rare Hadrosaur Skeleton With Preserved Skin In Canada

To the delight of paleontologists, dinosaur fossils regularly resurface around the world. But some discoveries are more exceptional than others. In Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canadaa rare hadrosaur fossil – a herbivorous duck-billed dinosaur – 76 million years old has just been found.

Located in the province of Alberta, Dinosaur Provincial Park is renowned for its abundance of fossil remains. According to Caleb Brown, curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, between 400 and 500 dinosaur skeletons or bones as well as many other vertebrate remains have appeared there in recent decades.

It was during a scouting mission carried out with students in 2021 that the discovery took place. While exploring the side of a hill, one of the volunteers, Teri Kaskie, saw a piece of fossil emerging from the surface. Upon inspection, she found that the bone was much larger and better preserved than anything she had seen so far.

When Dr. Brian Pickles, professor of ecology from the University of Reading who accompanied the group, came to take a look, he was “completely amazed“.”I had never seen anything like it“, he confided at the site LiveScience. Further examination and early excavation revealed that the fragment was actually part of a hadrosaur’s tail.

A fossil with unique characteristics

Skeletons of this dinosaur family are not uncommon in this area. But the recently found fossil stood out for several outstanding features. First, its state of preservation. For the time being, only part of the tail and a foot have been freed from the rock, but its position suggests that the skeleton could be complete or almost complete.

Then his age. Based on the size of its tail and foot, paleontologists believe the specimen is about four meters tall and therefore likely a juvenile. “Although duck-billed dinosaurs are well represented in the fossil record, younger animals are much less common“, pointed out Dr. Pickles to The National.

This means the find could help paleontologists understand how hadrosaurs grew and developed.Finally, and even more unexpectedly, portions of fossilized skin appeared on certain areas of the skeleton. This suggests that more skin could be found on the rest of the hadrosaur.

Specialists Brian Pickles and Caleb Brown in front of the hill containing the fossil. At the bottom, the diagram gives an idea of ​​the supposed position of the fossil. © Melissa Dergousoff University of Reading, diagram by Caleb Brown

Finding a dinosaur fossil with lots of skin is “quite rare“, confirmed the specialist at CBC before deciphering the importance of such a particularity: “when you find skin, or even better, internal organs, you can begin to see how these animals were when they lived and breathed“.

During the Cretaceous, between 66 and 145 million years ago, the region was crisscrossed by a complex network of rivers that crisscrossed the landscape. Evidenced by the presence of many fossils of aquatic species. Dr. Pickles thus suggests that the body of the hadrosaur would have found itself caught in a mixture of sandstone and mud which would have allowed its good preservation.

I think it was covered up pretty quickly, otherwise it wouldn’t have been so well preserved“, he told LiveScience. “You can still see some of its vertebrae and tendons, and as you approach you can see its scales. The dark, scaly skin has a texture similar to that of a basketball. It’s something very special“.

Several months of effort before collecting the entire fossil

It is only by clearing the entirety of the fossil that paleontologists will be able to truly assess its condition and study its anatomy. However, the task promises to be as long as it is complex given the size of the specimen and its position at the base of the hill. According the Royal Tyrrell Museum who participates in the project, the collection of the entire skeleton could take several months or even seasons.

So far we have removed 112 tons of rock, what we call overburden, to reach the fossils“, detailed the scientist. “We think the [squelette] whole is there but we will not have any certainty until we have finished the excavation“, he confirmed. According to Alberta government legislation, all fossils discovered are property of the province and cannot be sold.

Once completely cleared, the hadrosaur should thus join a laboratory of the Royal Tyrrell Museum located in Drumheller, where it will be prepared for study. The observations will make it possible in particular to assess the exact degree of completeness of the skeleton, its preservation and perhaps to determine its species. Eventually, it will join the permanent collection of the museum.

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