Two paleontologists from Brigham Young University's Museum of Paleontology and North Carolina State University have discovered a brand new species of hadrosaur with one very defining feature: a huge nose.
Dr. Rodney Scheetz and Dr. Terry Gates named their discovery Rhinorex condrupus. The large-nosed dinosaur lived in North America, in what is now Utah, over 75 million years ago, during the last part of the Cretaceous period.
Most interesting about the discovery is that it came long after paleontologists excavated the bones of the dinosaur back in the 1990s in Utah's Neslen formation, a geologic part of the state where paleontologists discovered many preserved fossils from the Cretaceous period.
However, sandstone surrounded the Rhinorex's skull. Scheetz and Gates took nearly two years carefully extracting it from the rock, avoiding damage. Once the skull was free, though, the two paleontologists realized they were looking at something new.
Based on other bones found, the paleontologists estimate that Rhinorex weighed over 8,500 lbs. and was at least 30 feet long. Its environment was swampy, probably near an inlet of the sea at the end of a river. Because of this, paleontologists have a new understanding about the habitats of various species of hadrosaurs in the area.
"We've found other hadrosaurs from the same time period but located about 200 miles farther south that are adapted to a different environment," says Gates."This discovery gives us a geographic snapshot of the Cretaceous, and helps us place contemporary species in their correct time and place. Rhinorex also helps us further fill in the hadrosaur family tree."
Hadrosaurs are of particular interest to paleontologists because of their well-preserved tougher skins. In fact, one researcher looked at 180 reports of hadrosaur fossils and found that 46 percent of those fossils still had skin attached.
However, the Rhinorex's most prevailing feature wasn't its skin, but its relatively large nose in place of where most hadrosaurs have a bony crest. Even more interesting is that the purpose of the Rhinorex's large nose is unknown.
"The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery," says Gates. "If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell; but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, recognizing members of its species, or even as a large attachment for a plant-smashing beak. We are already sniffing out answers to these questions."