Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rare baby dinosaur fossil discovered in Alberta

Fossil hunters searching through Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park have turned up a rare specimen — the nearly complete fossilized skeleton of a baby dinosaur. The dinosaur was discovered by Philip Currie, a paleobiologist from the University of Alberta, and it belongs to a species known as Chasmosaurus belli. This horned, frill-headed dinosaur is related to Triceratops, and lived in southeastern Alberta, roughly 70 million years ago. Currie spotted the creature's frill jutting out from a hillside in the park, and he and his team realized the importance of their find when they unearthed it.

Researchers have uncovered many C. belli fossils in the area over the years, but this is now, apparently, the smallest nearly-complete specimen they've ever found. The only part of the skeleton that is missing is the forelimbs, which apparently fell down a small sinkhole that opened up underneath the remains at some point. According to LiveScience, the level of preservation for the rest is so good, though, that it even shows the details of the dinosaur's skin pattern in the rock beneath it.

Discovering an intact skeleton of a juvenile dinosaur is important because it gives researchers a reference point to work from when looking at bones from bigger, older specimens of the species. Although some species can change quite a bit as they age, in this case, the fossil showed them that while C. belli's head frills changed as they grew, the rest of their body proportions stayed pretty much the same. As Currie told LiveScience, this "means the adults were probably never moving that fast. There was never priority for these animals to run to keep up with the adults."

Adult specimens of C. belli can be up to 5 metres long and weigh around 2 tons. According to the researchers, based on the size of the fossil, this dinosaur was just a toddler, maybe around three years old when it died. No bite wounds or other injuries were noted, not even from scavengers, and it was discovered in layers of sediment like you'd find at the bottom of a river. Based on that, the researchers believe that it very likely was overcome by the current, drowned, and then was covered by sediments at the bottom of the river until they recently unearthed it.

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