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Here's another reason to avoid closing down national parks and monuments: They're teeming with dinosaur fossils, and some of them are right on the surface, ready to be found.
In 2009, high school student Kevin Terris was trekking through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah when something at his feet caught his eye. "At first I was interested in seeing what the initial piece of bone sticking out of the rock was," Terris told scientists. "When we exposed the skull, I was ecstatic!"
Terris had stumbled upon a nearly complete skeleton of a baby Parasaurolophus, a plant-eating dinosaur that roamed western North America around 75 million years ago. The discovery, announced Tuesday by Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in California, is the youngest and most complete fossil skeleton on record for this species of dinosaur. See 3D digital scans of the entire skeleton here.
The skeleton of the baby Parasaurolophus, nicknamed "Joe." (Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology)
Using a sample of bone tissue, scientists determined that the duck-billed dinosaur, nicknamed "Joe," was less than a year old when it died, according to a study published in the open access scientific journal Peer. "Dinosaurs have yearly growth rings in their bone tissue, like trees. But we didn't see even one ring," said study coauthor Sarah Werning of Stony Brook University. "That means it grew to a quarter of adult size in less than a year." Joe, who measured six feet in length, would have grown to 25 feet in adulthood.
The discovery provides scientists with more information about Parasaurolophus's development. The dinosaur, which you may remember from a brief cameo in Jurassic Park, is most known for a long, curved bony tube on top of its skull. Scientists speculate the hollow tube was used to emit calls, like a trumpet blasting sound, for communication. Joe's skull has a small bump, the beginnings of its species signature headgear. Its smaller shape means that the baby dinosaur likely sounded like, well, a baby—its call probably was high in pitch, perhaps even squeaky, compared with its parents.
The fossil, nicknamed "Joe", was found by a high school student in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
"Joe" is a baby Parasaurolophus, the most complete skeleton yet known from this herbivorous tube-crested dinosaur that lived 75 million years ago.
"Joe" was less than six feet long and under a year old when it died, and would have grown to an adult measuring nearly 25 feet long.
"Joe" shows that Parasaurolophus formed its unusual headgear by expanding some of its skull bones earlier and for a longer period of time than its close relatives.
The skeleton of "Joe" is the most complete digitally-accessible dinosaur to date, with 3D models and scans of virtually every aspect of its anatomy freely available for download.
High school students were involved in the collection, study, and publication of this rare find, through the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California.