Remains of a hadrosaur that lived 75 million years ago in Canada have been discovered in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, preserving several fragments of fossilized skin. The rest of the specimen is most likely preserved entirely within the rocky slope. We will know soon.
In Canada’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, scientists have discovered an unusual skeleton of hadrosaur: The exposed part has several fragments of fossilized skin that promise to provide valuable new information about this duck-billed dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous in what is now Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.
This find is very strange because it is difficult to find fossilized skin fragments, as it is more difficult to preserve than bones: less than one percent of dinosaur footprints show traces of skin.
Scientists believe that this hadrosaur specimen was buried quickly, probably less than two days after its death. This would have allowed the exceptional conservation of the skin.
Hadrosaurids are a family of hadrosauroid ornithopod dinosaurs. This group of herbivores is also known as “duck-billed dinosaurs” because of the resemblance of their mouths to the beaks of anatidae birds.
Surprise among the rocks
Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, which covers 73.29 square kilometers and was created in 1955, is among the richest places in the world for dinosaur fossils.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has more than 40 species of dinosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous, which lived in the area approximately between 77 and 75 million years ago.
Fossil hunters have been collecting specimens from this area for over a century. Each year the staff at the Royal Tyrrell Museum continue to excavate newly discovered finds.
Last year, while walking through Dinosaur Provincial Park, a group of students and scientists stumbled upon a small part of a skeleton of this duck-billed dinosaur outcropping from the side of a small hill.
After an inspection, the scientists appreciated an important detail: the exposed section, which corresponds to the tail and part of the leg of the hadrosaur, has several areas with traces of fossilized skin. The covered surfaces are also quite large.
Three characteristics of this find make it unique, stand out The researchers: First, the exposed fossils include a large part of the animal’s tail and its right hind leg.
These body parts are oriented in a way that suggests the entire skeleton may still be preserved within the hill. Complete skeletons are very rare and provide important information about the appearance and general anatomy of the animal.
Second, based on the small size of the tail and foot, it is likely to be a young individual. Although adult duck-billed dinosaurs are well represented in the fossil record, younger animals are less common. This finding could help paleontologists understand how the animal grew and developed throughout its life.
Lastly, large areas of the exposed skeleton are covered in fossilized skin, suggesting that there may be even more preserved skin covering other parts of the skeleton currently hidden within the rock.
To deepen this finding, the first field work began in the Dinosaur Provincial Park last month.
A group of undergraduate students from the University of Reading are working, along with postgraduates from the University of New England, on research projects examining the paleobiodiversity of the park.
These analyzes include surface mapping, excavation and identification of fossils in bone beds, as well as prospecting for new excavation sites.
Participants have also partnered with the Royal Tyrrell Museum to begin excavating this unique hadrosaur specimen.
Since the skeleton is near the base of a large rock face, the team began by covering the exposed fossils with plaster and wood to protect them, while the team began excavating from the top of the rock face to reach the fossil layer. .
months and years of waiting
The collection of the entire skeleton can take several months, and even several field seasons, to complete.
Once the fossil is collected, it will be delivered to the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Preparation Laboratory, where qualified technicians will work to complete the remains.
During the preparation process, they will determine how well the skeleton is preserved, whether the entire skeleton is present, and how much of the animal’s skin is preserved.
It will only be possible to identify the exact species of duck-billed dinosaur if a skull is discovered. Depending on the size and preservation of this specimen, its complete preparation for research and display may take several years.