In a stroke of pure luck, a high school student ran across what is the youngest, smallest and most complete fossilized baby dinosaur skeleton yet found.
The animal, whose name Parasaurolophus means “like crested lizard,” was a duck-billed dinosaur with a long and hollow bony tube on his head. Scientists believe that this tube was probably used to create trumpeting blasts of sound for communication with other dinosaurs.
The approximately 75-million-year-old skeleton was found in 2009 by a high schooler named Kevin Terris inside Grand Staircase-Escalanate National Monument in the southern part of Utah. Terris says that at first he was just interested in seeing what the piece of bone sticking out of the rock was. Then, when he uncovered the skull, he was “ecstatic,” he says.
Oddly enough, two professional paleontologists who walked within a few feet of the bones just days earlier missed the incredible find.
The baby dinosaur skeleton, which has been named “Joe” in honor of a Raymond M. Alf Museum sponsor who funded the fossil’s preparation, is the most complete specimen of Parasaurolophus yet to be found.
If Joe had reached adulthood, he would have been about 40 feet long and nine feet tall at the hips. He would have also weighed about 2 tons, the weight of an average-size American car. The baby dinosaur, however, was only about one-quarter this size, measuring just six feet long when he died.
One unique feature about the baby Parasaurolophus, according to Andrew Farke, who is curator of the Alf Museum, is the fact that he already had a bump on his forehead, indicating that the curved tubes normally only seen in adult animals had already started to grow, even though he was only about one-quarter grown. In other related dinosaurs, the head ornamentation did not start sprouting until they were about one-half grown.
According to Sarah Werning, the Stony Brook University researcher who estimated Joe’s age, he was only about one year old when he died. Dinosaur bones have annual growth rings, similar to the ones that trees have, which help researchers to estimate their age. Joe did not have any rings at all.
Another interesting fact that the scientists were able to glean from the dinosaur’s bones was what Joe might have sounded like. By using medical scans to examine the internal anatomy of Joe’s skull, they were able to reconstruct his “voice,” which was probably much higher pitched than an adult dinosaur’s due to fact that his crest was short and much smaller.
Because of the find’s importance, the scientists have made a 3D scan of the baby dinosaur’s skeleton and are making it available to anyone with Internet access. A link can be found in the sources below.
The study discussing the baby dinosaur skeleton can be found in the scientific journal PeerJ. Joe is on display at the Raymond M. Alf Museum in Claremont, CA. The boy who made the discovery was a student at The Webb Schools, which is affiliated with the museum.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening