Dinosaur Bones Discovered At Big Bend National Park Belong To New Species, Scientists Say

By Carlos Morales

Fossils discovered more than 30 years ago at Big Bend National Park belong to a new species of dinosaur with a hooked nose and a shovel-shaped jaw, according to a group of researchers this week.

Aquilarhinus palimentus — named for the distinctive shape of its head —was discovered at the sprawling West Texas park back in 1985, but was only just identified as a new species. The ancient dinosaur is a kind of hadrosaurid, a common type of herbivore found toward the end of the Mesozoic Era — which began some 250 million years ago and ended 66 million years ago.

(Photo courtesy of IRCA Art)

Although they were first discovered by Texas Tech University Professor Tom Lehman decades ago, the fossils’ conditions were unable to be analyzed until recently.

“The bones were badly weathered and stuck together, making them impossible to study,” read a Facebook post from Big Bend National Park.

In an article published last week in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, a team of researchers — including Lehman — said the newly-named species of duck-billed dinosaurs is one of the oldest hadrosaurs ever discovered. And they think it can help them understand where these dinos originally evolved and migrated from.

“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.,” said the studies lead author Albert Prieto-Márquez in the park’s post.

Prieto-Márquez, who teaches at the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, also hopes that studying Aquilarhinus palimentus can give researchers some insight into the dinosaurs’ odd-shaped head and how it evolved to be that way.

The beak of other species of hadrosaurids is broader. But, “there was no evidence of a significantly different shape (and therefore likely a different feeding style) until Aquilarhinus was discovered,” read Big Bend National Park’s post.

The jaws of aquilarhinus — according to the researchers’ article “An unusual ‘shovel-billed’ dinosaur with trophic specializations from the early Campanian of Trans-Pecos Texas, and the ancestral hadrosaurian crest” —are unique and meet in a “peculiar” W-shape.

That shape made for a wide, flattened scoop — think something akin to a Frito’s corn chip. And, according to Big Bend National Park, that jaw was most likely used to shovel “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 desert land of Big Bend National Park has long been a popular destination for researchers looking for a window into our prehistoric past.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the fossils are being examed at the University of Texas at Austin, where they’ve remained since their discovery.

About Carlos Morales

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.
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