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Missouri dinosaur bones reveal new duck-billed species


Scientists have not only identified the bones of a new dinosaur in southern Missouri, but they may have also found a home of dinosaurs.

The newly identified duck-billed dinosaur named Parrosaurus missouriensis reached a length of around 35 feet as an adult. Various dinosaur bones have been found at the excavation site over the past eight decades, but now enough has been collected to ensure that a new genus and species have been discovered.

A little over a month ago, researchers removed the body of the dinosaur. “It was huge, almost the size of a Volkswagen,” said Guy Darrough, curator of the Learning Center of the Sainte Geneviève Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

The find is like “hitting King Tut’s grave,” said Darrough, who began working at the site four decades ago. “I can’t think of another find that would be bigger than the Missouri dinosaurs.”

The discovery also adds to scientists’ knowledge of the ecology of the Western Interior Seaway, a body of water that divided North America more than 70 million years ago. While the majority of dinosaur finds have been in the western states, this southern Missouri site – it would have been on the east side of the Seaway – has actually been for decades.

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About 80 years ago at the site, scientists found the first dinosaur bones there; they were believed to be the remains of a large sauropod, a herbivorous dinosaur, Darrough said. Charles Gilmore, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, examined the bones and, with Dan Stewart of the Missouri Geological Survey, wrote an article on the dinosaur, which became known as Parrorsaurus missouriensis, according to the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History (Mo.).

Another cache of bones – a skeleton of what they learned was a juvenile dinosaur and a dinosaur jawbone with teeth – was found in the 1980s, after geologist Bruce Stinchcomb bought the property. These bones suggested that the dinosaur was not a sauropod but in fact a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur.

Hadrosaurs have long been considered herbivores, but some findings in recent years suggest they may have eaten shellfish, opportunistically or accidentally.

Scientists thought the dinosaur looked like the brontosaurus used in the Sinclair oil ad, “but it turns out to be a totally different type of dinosaur,” Darrough said.

A fossil collector, Darrough asked if he could set up a greenhouse to dig in at the site and managed to find dinosaur bones. Also found: the tooth of a dinosaur which is a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Darrough contacted Peter Makovicky, a paleontologist who was then curator of dinosaurs at The Field Museum in Chicago. He visited Missouri in 2016 and quickly dispatched a dig team to the site.

“Most people thought we were finding behemoths and mammoths,” Darrough said. “These big animals are, you know, 10,000 years old. But dinosaurs are about 70 million years old. I knew they were dinosaur bones, but I kept quiet.”

Darrough was “a very serious fossil collector and actually knew his stuff,” Makovicky said, but admitted to being “watched, but very intrigued” by the find before it arrived.

Peter Makovicky, left, and Guy Darrough, examining clay that may contain more bones from the Missouri dinosaur.

The site was “at the bottom of a valley in the Ozarks” and looked “like a frog pond,” Makovicky said. “It didn’t look like a dinosaur site. There was no exposed bedrock.”

But they began to find bones, including the tail, both arms, and skull of a dinosaur that was believed to be around 35 feet long, Darrough said. And a little over a month ago, they removed the body of this dinosaur. “It was huge, almost the size of a Volkswagen,” he said.

“He weighed over 2,000 pounds,” said Makovicky, now a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Minnesota.

Images of the dig site in southern Missouri where a new type of dinosaur, Parrosaurus missouriensis was found.  Team members Akiko Shinya (left) and MInyoung Son (right) tunnel in the clay under the jacket to loosen it so it can be turned upside down and the underside wrapped in plaster bandages.

For perspective, the Tyrannosaurus Rex was thought to be around 40 feet long and 12 feet high, while the Supersaurus dinosaur, revealed earlier this month, is believed to be the longest dinosaur measuring between 128 and 137 feet.

Based on the findings of the cross-section of the skull, arms and tail, Makovicky concluded that the bones were those of a duck-billed dinosaur and, since the original name of the dinosaur applied to the site, was named Parrorsaurus. missouriensis. The dinosaur had previously been named the state dinosaur of the state of Missouri, based on previous findings.

This site will likely contain the remains of at least four different Parrosaurus missouriensis dinosaurs, Makovicky said.

“There is potentially a lot more here,” he said. “We’re actually looking at something that could be massive death, like an entire herd that perished and poured into this waterhole or lagoon.”

Speaking of the death at the excavation site, further research has resulted in the discovery of “the bone armor of a giant crocodile,” a crocodilian, said Darrough, which Lost World Studios creates. life size dinosaur models for museums and botanical gardens.

Vern Bauman is leading the removal of the massive plaster jacket containing part of the skeleton of the Missouri dinosaur, Parrosaurus missouriensis in 2021.

“These things are about sixty feet long and they’re big enough to take down a dinosaur. So when the herds of Parrosaurus came down for a drink, these guys could grab them around their necks and pull them into the water and drown. When you get a crocodile big enough to take down a dinosaur that’s a big crocodile. “

Regardless of what else is found, the Missouri excavations were a prime example of scientific collaboration between paleontologists and “dedicated and generous local volunteers, who essentially started this project over 30 years ago.” , said Makovicky.

And it helped expand knowledge of dinosaurs in the United States east of the Western Interior Seaway, which at one point spread to the Appalachians.

“Most of the dinosaurs that every 6-year-old knows, tyrannosaurs, your various horned and duck-billed dinosaurs, and so on, lived west of the Seaway,” Makovicky said. “From the East Coast and the Midwestern states, we have a lot, a lot less knowledge about dinosaurs. So when you find a site where you don’t have just remains, but several skeletons together, that’s a real thing. windfall. “

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.