New dinosaur species discovered in Big Bend

Fossils that were found in Big Bend more than 30 years ago have now been identified as a new species of dinosaur. (Illustration by ICRA Art)

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Tx (KOSA) -- Fossils that were found in Big Bend National Park more than 30 years ago have now been identified as belonging to a new species of dinosaur.

Aquilarhinus palimentus is a duck-billed dinosaur with a wide lower jaw shaped like trowels.

The following comes from Big Bend National Park:

The fossil was originally discovered in the 1980s by Texas Tech University Professor Tom Lehman. The bones were badly weathered and stuck together, making them impossible to study. Research in the 1990s revealed two arched nasal crests thought to be distinctive of the Gryposaurus genus. At that time the peculiar lower jaw was recognized, but it wasn’t until recent analysis that researchers came to realize that the specimen was more primitive than Gryposaurus and all other saurolophid duck-billed dinosaurs.

“This new animal is one of the more primitive hadrosaurids known and can therefore help us to understand how and why the ornamentation on their heads evolved, as well as where the group initially evolved and migrated from,” says lead author Dr. Albert Prieto-Márquez from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, near Barcelona. “Its existence adds another piece of evidence to the growing hypothesis, still up in the air, that the group began in the southwestern area of the U.S.”

Duck-billed dinosaurs, also known as hadrosaurids, were the most common herbivorous dinosaur at the end of the Mesozoic Era, and all had a similar looking snout. The front of the jaws meet in a U-shape to support a cupped beak used for cropping plants. The beak of some species is broader than others, but there was no evidence of a significantly different shape (and therefore likely a different feeding style) until Aquilarhinus was discovered. The lower jaws of Aquilarinus meet in a peculiar W-shape, creating a wide, flattened scoop. Around 80 million years ago, this particular dinosaur would have been shoveling through loose, wet sediment to scoop loosely-rooted aquatic plants from the tidal marshes of an ancient delta, where today lies the Chihuahuan desert.

The significance of this discovery includes that the jaw and other characteristics of the specimen show that it doesn’t fit with the group of duck-billed dinosaurs known as Saurolophidae.

It’s more primitive than this group, suggesting there might have been a greater number of primitive species than previously recognized. Saurophids had a cranial crest and the current specimen also had a bony crest, shaped like a humped nose. The discovery of a solid crest outside the group supports the hypothesis that both types of crest evolved from a common ancestor.

The work was conducted under permit from Big Bend National Park, as well as the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, where the specimen is housed.

(Illustration by ICRA Art)