High School Student Discovers Baby Dinosaur Fossil
October 22, 2013

High School Student Discovers Baby Dinosaur Fossil

[ Watch the Video: Baby Parasaurolophus Dinosaur ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools announced on Tuesday one of its students has discovered the youngest, most complete fossil skeleton of a Parasaurolophus.

Three-dimensional scans of the entire fossil have been made available for free online, making this dinosaur the most digitally accessible one to date.

High school student Kevin Terris discovered the skeleton back in 2009 at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. The dinosaur was missed by two professional paleontologists, who walked within several feet of the exposed bones days before Terris' discovery.

"At first I was interested in seeing what the initial piece of bone sticking out of the rock was," Terris said in a statement. "When we exposed the skull, I was ecstatic!"

A detailed study of the skeleton, nicknamed "Joe," identified it as the most complete specimen yet for a Parasaurolophus. Joe was a duck-billed dinosaur that lived throughout western North America around 75 million years ago. The herbivore is notable for a long and hollow bony tube on the top of its skull, which scientists believe was used like a trumpet to blast sound for communication.

The new six-foot-long fossil shows the baby Parasaurolophus had a low bump on top of its head, which only later morphed into the curved tube of adults.

"Our baby Parasaurolophus is barely one-quarter of adult size, but it had already started growing its crest," lead project scientist Andrew Farke, PhD, who is Augustyn Family Curator at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, said in a statement. "This is surprising, because related dinosaurs didn't sprout their ornamentation until they were at least half-grown. Parasaurolophus had to get an early start in order to form its unique headgear."

Sarah Werning, of Stony Brook University, co-author of the paper published in the journal Peer, said dinosaurs have yearly growth rings in their bone tissue, like trees.

"But we didn't see even one ring. That means it grew to a quarter of adult size in less than a year," Werning said.

Terris' skeleton has helped bring a slew of previously unknown information to the Parasaurolophus and its relatives. Medical scans documented the internal anatomy of the animal's skull, which allowed a reconstruction of its vocal capabilities.

"If adult Parasaurolophus had 'woofers,' the babies had 'tweeters.' The short and small crest of baby 'Joe' shows that it may have had a much higher pitch to its call than did adults," said Farke. "Along with the visual differences, this might have helped animals living in the same area to figure out who was the big boss."

Joe is now on exhibit at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California.


Image Below: This is the skeleton of the baby Parasaurolophus nicknamed "Joe." Credit: Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology