John R. “Jack” Horner

John R. “Jack” Horner (born June 15, 1946) is an American paleontologist known for his research on dinosaur growth, and for discovering evidence that some dinosaurs nested and cared for their young.  He is perhaps the most famous paleontologist due to his role as technical advisor for all three Jurassic Park films, and his providing inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant, the film’s lead character. He also advised on the FOX television show Terra Nova.

Horner was born and raised in the small town of Shelby, Montana. At 8 years of age, he found his first dinosaur bone on a piece of property that belonged to his father, a geologist; this ignited a lifelong passion.  As a young boy he never did very well in school – his saving grace was always science projects, which his mother always encouraged. He graduated high school with a D average. In 1964, Horner began his studies in geology at the University of Montana, but by 1965 he was failing college. He was subsequently drafted by the Marines and served for two years in Vietnam before returning to the university. From 1967-1972 he focused his studies on geology and zoology.

Due to undiagnosed dyslexia, and his inability to pass required foreign language courses, he did not complete his bachelor’s degree. He did, however, complete a senior thesis on the paleontology of the Bear Gulch Limestone strata, one of the most famous exceptionally preserved fish fossil sites in the world.

During the mid-1970s, Horner, along with fellow paleontologist and research partner Bob Makela, made a discovery that would establish his career. In north-central Montana, on Egg Mountain, they discovered a nesting site containing fossils of a duckbilled dinosaur. Upon examining the evenly spaced nests and the remains of the eggs (the first found in the Western hemisphere) they named the genus Maiasaura, or “Good Mother Lizard.” It was evident from the location and spacing of the nests that they were a part of an organized colony, and that the mother dinosaurs would have had to go elsewhere for food for their young due to a lack of vegetation. This was the first evidence of parental care by dinosaurs – the first dinosaurs to reveal social behaviors.

For years, Horner worked as technician at Princeton University’s Natural History Museum. He worked alongside the museum director on research projects and exhibitions, and eventually managed his own research projects. In 1982, he left Princeton to return to Montana to teach and curate at Montana State University. In 1986 he was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship and the University of Montana bestowed on him an Honorary Doctorate of Science.

While working with anatomist David Weishampel in 1988 he discovered more dinosaur eggs – estimated to be 75 million years old. These un-hatched eggs contained fossilized skeletons of dinosaur embryos. Some of these were Maiasaura, but many were of a previously unknown species. They named this species Orodromeus, or “mountain runner.”

In 2000 and 2001, Horner’s team discovered several specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex – among them, the largest specimen to date. It is substantially larger than Tyrannosaurus sue, estimated to have weighed between 22,000 and 28,600 pounds. In 2003, Horner discovered a fossilized Tyrannorsaur leg bone, and in 2007, paleontologist Mary Higby Schweitzer was able to retrieve proteins from the specimen.

Horner’s professional articles and writings span the gamut. He has published numerous articles on the growth of dinosaurs using growth series, in collaboration with French dinosaur histologist Armand de Ricqles and Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian. He has written children’s books about dinosaurs, and published more than 100 professional papers.  Following his 2001 discovery, which indicated that T. rex were moving as a pack when they died, he revitalized the theory that the T. rex was a scavenger rather than a predatory killer, and continues to research T. rex behavior.

In January of 2012, Horner married Vanessa Shiann Weaver, an undergraduate student in the Montana State University Paleontology department and volunteer at the Museum of the Rockies. He is 46 years her senior.

Horner is currently Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, adjunct curator at the National Museum of Natural History, the Regent’s Professor of Paleontology, and teaches in the Honors Program at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. His current projects include a “Chickenosaurus Project” (or Build a Dinosaur Project) in which he’s hoping to create a dinosaur-like animal from a chicken, with a team of geneticists. This project involves knocking out target genes in early chicken embryos.

Image Caption: Jack Horner during a presentation in Italy on May 29, 2012. Credit: Meet the Media Guru/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)