Science

Scientists Identify New Duck-Billed Dinosaur Species

Duck-Billed Dinosaur
Image source: Taylor & Francis Online

A group of scientists unearthed a well-preserved skull of a duck-billed dinosaur in Big Bend National Park, Texas. The discovery of this new dinosaur species baffled scientists because of its strange face that resembles a duck.

The complete skull of a newly discovered dinosaur called Aquilarhinus palimentus was described in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology and classified as a new genus and species. The reason for its strange name is because of its fascinating aquiline nose and wide lower jaw.

The research started back in the early 1980s when Tom Lehmen, professor at Texas Tech University, and a Master’s student back then, studied rock layers at Rattle Snake Mountain and discovered bones. He collected them with two more scientists at the University of Texas in Austin but it was impossible to conduct the study. Further research in the 1990s showed that the bones belonged to hadrosaurid Gryposaurus. However, it took many years to completely unveil the origin of this specimen. It turned out that it was a more primitive species, similar to the two groups of duck-billed dinosaurs.

“This new animal is one of the more primitive hadrosaurids known and can therefore help us to understand how and why the ornamentation on their heads evolved, as well as where the group initially evolved and migrated from,” lead author Dr. Albert Prieto-Márquez from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, near Barcelona said in a statement. “Its existence adds another piece of evidence to the growing hypothesis, still up in the air, that the group began in the southeastern area of the US.”

The duck-billed dinosaur is also known as hadrosaurid, which is some of the most common herbivorous dinosaurs that roamed Earth during the Mesozoic Era. All the species belonging to this group had a similar-looking snout. They were recognizable for their U-shaped jaws that supported the beak-looking upper jaws.

Some species had broader beaks than others, but scientists don’t have any evidence to confirm that it was actually a different shape which could indicate a different feeding style. However, the newly-discovered duck-billed dinosaur is different. It has lower jaws that meet in a peculiar W-shape, which makes a wide flattened scoop.

The dinosaur which lived 80 million years ago, would use its beak to shovel through wet sediment and collect aquatic plants from the tidal marshes and the delta which now makes the Chihuahuan desert.

Scientists found that because of its jaws, as well as some other characteristics, this species doesn’t fit together with the main group of duck-billed dinosaurs called Saurolophidae. It is believed that the newly-discovered duck-billed dinosaur is more primitive than the other known groups.

Most of the known saurolophids had bony cranial crests as well as other body shapes that ranged in size. However, Aquilarhinus has a bony crest, which is shaped like a humped nose.