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Rare dinosaur skull found in New Mexico



A team led by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science found the skull Parasaurolophus in the water parks of New Mexico.

DENVER – For the first time in nearly 100 years, a dinosaur skull belonging to the tube-chambered dinosaur Parasaurolophus was discovered with the help of a team of researchers from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS).

Smithsonian Ecology Fellow Erin Spear, Ph.D. uncovered the rare specimen while exploring the badlands of northwestern New Mexico as part of a DMNS team in 201

7, but the find was just announced Monday in the journal PeerJ.

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Located deep in the Bisti / De-Na-Zin desert of New Mexico, only a small portion of the skull was visible on a steep slope of sandstone. Museum volunteers led by Joe Sertich, the curator of dinosaurs at DMNS, were surprised to find the intact comb as they carefully chiseled the sample from the sandstone.

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“The preservation of this new skull is spectacular and finally reveals in detail the bones that make up the top of this amazing dinosaur that almost all dinosaur-possessed children know,” Sertich said. “This only reinforces the importance of protecting our public countries from scientific discoveries.”

Bone fragments at the site suggested that much of the skeleton may once have been preserved on an old sand bar, but only the partial skull, part of the lower jaw and a handful of ribs survived erosion, according to the DMNS.

The exquisite preservation of the skull, especially the bizarre tubular nasal passage, finally revealed the structure at the top after decades of disagreement.

“Over the last 100 years, ideas for the purpose of the exaggerated tube comb have ranged from snorkels to super-sniffers,” said David Evans, the Temerty chair in invertebrate paleontology and vice president of natural history at the Royal Ontario Museum.

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“But after decades of study, we now believe that these combs functioned primarily as sound resonators and visual screens used to communicate within their own species.”

Despite its extreme morphology, the details of the sample show that the top is shaped like the top of other, related duck dinosaurs.

“This specimen is a wonderful example of amazing creatures evolving from a single ancestor,” Sertich said.

Among the most recognizable dinosaurs, the modified Parasaurolophus had an elongated, tube-like comb on its head containing an internal network of airways.

“Imagine your nose growing up in your face three feet behind your head and then turning around to pin you over your eyes. Parasaurolophus breathed through eight meters of pipe before oxygen ever reached the head, ”said Terry Gates, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University.

Three species of Parasaurolophus are currently recognized, ranging from Alberta to New Mexico in cliffs dating between 77 and 73.5 million years old.

The new skull belongs to Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus, formerly known from a single specimen collected in the same region of New Mexico in 1923 by the legendary fossil hunter Charles H. Sternberg. Both samples show a shorter, more curved comb than other species, a feature that may be related to their immaturity at death.

Today, the badlands of northwestern New Mexico, where the skull was found dry and sparsely vegetated, are a dramatic contrast to the lush lowland floodplains preserved in their cliffs. 75 million years ago, when Parasaurolophus lived in the region, North America was divided into two land masses by a wide sea route.

Parasaurolophus shared lush, subtropical riverbanks with other, giant duck-dwelling dinosaurs, a diverse variety of horned dinosaurs and early tyrannosaurs along with many new, modern groups of alligators, turtles and plants.

“The preservation of this new skull is spectacular and finally reveals in detail the bones that make up the top of this amazing dinosaur that almost all dinosaur-possessed children know,” Sertich said. “This only reinforces the importance of protecting our public countries from scientific discoveries.”

For decades, the Parasaurolophus family tree placed the two long, straight-crested species of Parasaurolophus (P. walkeri from Alberta and P. tubicen from younger cliffs in New Mexico) as the most closely related despite being separated by more than 1,600 miles ( 1,600 km) and 2.5 million years.

Analysis of additional features of the skull excluding the coat of arms along with information from other Southern Utah Parasaurolophus discoveries suggests for the first time that all southern species from New Mexico and Utah may be more closely related than they are to their northern cousin. This fits patterns observed in other dinosaur groups of the same age, including horned dinosaurs.

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