Most of what non-scientists know about dinosaur anatomy comes from the brilliant mind of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park series from the 1990s. Though some fictionalised versions of our old dino friends irked some experts, it was also lauded for having a great amount of accuracy.
Keen eyed fans might remember a particularly pretty and unique-looking dinosaur, the Parasaurolophus. It was the one with a crest on its head, like a duck’s bill. Now a fully formed skull of the same has been discovered and researchers have some interesting insights into this particular dinosaur’s evolution.
The remains of the rare, tube-crested species are reported to have “exquisite preservation of the skull.” Many experts had differed on what the actual dinosaur would have looked like for decades and now those disagreements can be put to rest. The research suggests that like most duckbilled dinosaurs, this particular animal also had similar morphological developments.
“This specimen is a wonderful example of amazing creatures evolving from a single ancestor,” said curator Joe Sertich from Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Paleontologist Terry Gates said, “Imagine your nose growing up your face, three feet behind your head, then turning around to attach above your eyes. Parasaurolophus breathed through eight feet of pipe before oxygen ever reached its head.”
“My jaw dropped when I first saw the fossil,” Gates said. He said he had been waiting for over 20 years for a specimen like this.
The purpose of the tube-crest has been much debated in palaeontological circles. Some experts suggested it was like a snorkel to breathe when the dinosaur was underwater, others suggested they were forms of “super sniffers.” But now the team has finally realised this structure acted like sound resonators and visual displays used to communicate within their own species.
The remains were found in the Badlands around New Mexico. You may have seen the dry visuals in many Western films but 75 million years ago the area was a lush floodplain. The mountain ranges building up in the area helped in preserving diverse dinosaurs’ ecosystems which still remain one the best-preserved regions in the world. Based on the evidence discovered, crestless duckbilled dinosaurs, horned dinosaurs, and early tyrannosaurs shared the neighbourhood with many emerging, modern groups of alligators, turtles and plants.
For a long time, Parasaurolophus with its two long, straight-crested species, P. walkeri from Alberta, and P. tubicen, from New Mexico, have been considered as “most closely related.” Though they existed 2.5 million years apart and 1,600 km away. Now these new discoveries in New Mexico, Southern Utah suggest that all of the southern species might be very closely related and a little removed from those discovered in Northern America.