Fossils of baby dinosaurs are often very rarely unearthed by scientists because of their small size. No matter how uncommon, though, discoveries of these juvenile fossils do occur.
The unearthing of a baby Chasmosaurus, one of the rarest dinosaur species ever, had especially garnered attention about three years ago. Discovered by Canadian paleontologist and Professor Philip Currie in 2010, the fossil was first thought to be that of an ancient turtle.
Turns out, the remains were of greater value as they were the fossils of a juvenile Chasmosaurus, a dinosaur that roamed around the planet about 75 million years ago.
Now, six years after the fossil's discovery, Currie and his colleagues revealed that they have a complete skeleton of the baby Chasmosaurus. Incidentally, the Chasmosaurus is part of the dinosaur family known as Ceratopsidae. Its relatives are horned dinosaurs such as the triceratops.
The discovery provides new information about the family of horned dinosaurs, allowing for the refinement of previous studies. It also fills in the gaps in the evolution of these particular dinosaurs.
"We've only had a few isolated bones before to give us an idea of what these animals should look like as youngsters, but we've never had anything to connect all the pieces," said Currie. "All you need is one specimen that ties them all together. Now we have it!"
The Growth Chart Of The Baby Chasmosaurus
The juvenile Chasmosaurus, excavated at the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada, was fully intact. Currie and his colleagues believe that the little dinosaur had died by drowning.
If it had lived longer, the 4-foot baby Chasmosaurus would have grown up to 16 feet. Paleontologists are excited as the discovery of a baby Chasmosaurus was extremely rare.
"The little ones don't preserve as well as the big ones [and now] for the first time ever we have a complete skeleton of a baby ceratopsid," said Currie. "Not only has [a young Chasmosaurus] never been found here, it's never been found, period."
In a report featured in the Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology, Currie said the baby Chasmosaurus could help scientists figure out the dimensions, body weights, and ages for all other ceratopsid species. They could also understand its life history, population structure, biomass, variation, physiology and growth rates, he said.
Basically, scientists can now create a growth chart for the baby Chasmosaurus and other members of the family Ceratopsidae.
"We now have an anchor point with the baby that we can compare with all other specimens of this species, and from that comparison can calculate the dimensions, body weights and ages for all other ceratopsid species," said Currie. "We can start filling in missing pieces."
Currie, along with co-authors Michael Ryan, Rob Holmes, and Clive Coy, worked with Michael Skrepnick, renowned paleo-artist to create a life reconstruction of the baby Chasmosaurus.
Meanwhile, Currie said they haven't gone deeper into the anatomical descriptions of the juvenile dinosaur yet. Over the coming years, he said he will be assigning different dinosaur body parts to students who will focus on the growth changes and the implications within horned dinosaurs.