BUFFALO, NY (October 30, 2009) -- A husband and wife team of American paleontologists has discovered a new species of dinosaur that lived 112 million years ago during the early Cretaceous of central Montana.
The new dinosaur, a species of ankylosaur, is documented in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. Ankylosaurs are the biological version of an army tank. They are protected by a plate-like armour with two sets of sharp spikes on each side of the head, and a skull so thick that even 'raptors' such as Deinonychus could leave barely more than a scratch.
Bill and Kris Parsons, Research associates of the Buffalo Museum of Science, found much of the skull of the newly described Tatankacephalus cooneyorum resting on the surface of a hillside in 1997. Because the skull was 90% complete, it was possible to justify this fossil as a new species.
"This is the first member of Ankylosauridae to be found within the Early Cretaceous Cloverly Geologic Formation," said Bill Parsons, who characterized the fossil as a transitional evolutionary form between the earlier Jurassic ankylosaurs and the better known Late Cretaceous ankylosaurs.
The skull is heavily protected by two sets of lateral horns, two thick domes at the back, and smaller thickenings around the nasal region. "Heavy ornamentation and horn-like plates would have covered most of the dorsal surface of this dinosaur" said Bill Parsons.
"For years, Bill and Kris have been collecting fossils from a critical time in Earth's history, and their hard work has paid off," said Lawrence Witmer, professor of paleontology at Ohio University who was not involved with this study. "This is a really important find and gives us a clearer view of the evolution of armored dinosaurs. But this is just the first; I'm sure, of what will be a series of important discoveries from this team."
Parsons also illustrated the dermal armour of this new species based on the theory by Museum of the Rockies paleontologist John R. Horner that there was an outer keratinous sheathing on it as found in modern turtle shells and bird beaks. In his new reconstruction, Parsons suggests that Tatankacephalus exhibited complex and colorful patterns rather than the dull appearance suggested in earlier ankylosaur portraits. "According to Horner's theory, many other dinosaurs also had this kind of sheathing and also may have been diversely colored" said Parsons.
As to its name, the broad, short horns on the back of its skull resemble the horns found on a modern buffalo skull and Tatankacephalus loosely translates as 'Buffalo head.' Parsons also noted, "of course any further allusions to the city of Buffalo are completely intentional as well".
Bill Parsons works as a teacher at the Gow School in South Wales, NY, and as scientific illustrator for the Buffalo Museum of Science. He is also freelance dinosaur illustrator whose images have appeared on the covers of Science, Nature, Time and Newsweek. The publication of Tatankacephalus may be the first time that an established dinosaur illustrator has discovered, prepared, researched, and published on a new dinosaur taxon.
The Buffalo Museum of Science is the non-profit educational institution dedicated to the study and interpretation of the natural and physical sciences. Its extensive collections of over 700,000 specimens and artifacts represent all facets of the natural world with an emphasis on Western New York as well as man-made objects spanning the globe. Based at 1020 Humboldt Parkway and anchoring Buffalo's East Side in Olmsted-designed Martin Luther King, Jr. Park since 1929, the Museum presents a wide variety of programs and services for children, teachers, families, adults, and community organizations throughout each year. General admission to the Museum is $7 adults; $6 seniors (age 62+); $5 students and children over 3; and free for members and children under 3. The Museum also operates Tifft Nature Preserve in South Buffalo, a 264-acre urban wetland preserve on reclaimed former industrial land and seasonally sponsors archaeological exploration at the Hiscock Site in nearby Genesee County, NY, one of North America's richest Ice Age sites.
For further information on the Museum and its upcoming activities, call 716-896-5200 or visit www.buffalomuseumofscience.org.
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