Friday, April 29, 2011

Uncovering a Hadrosaur by Mat Hilton

When we arrived at the paleontology lab we immediately began snooping around. There was a group of fossils in one corner of the room that had been brought in all together in some kind of plaster.
When Dr. Titus came back we had lots of questions about it. We had decided it was the skull. We found out we were right but wrong about everything else. We were trying to match the skull with the drawing in the bottom right of the picture. It turned out we were looking at the skull backwards. We also learned that the picture is based off of a disproved hypothesis about the length of the crests being distinctive to gender. Dr. Titus told us it was a hadrosaur skull. This was very significant to us because we would be working on a hadrosaur fossil.
At the dig site there were several bones already exposed. Even though the bones were very weathered it was really exciting and got us motivated to work and find more.
I didn't know anything about hadrosaurs before this trip, but after spending so much time digging up pieces of one I really wanted to learn more.
Hadrosaurs are what most people know as "duck-billed" dinosaurs. They are members of the hadrosauridae family. There are two sub-families that are distinguished by having hollow cranial crests or a solid crest if any.
Distinguishing characteristics of hadrosaurs are the bill-like snout and a jaw that moves in a very strange way. I don't know if any other dinosaurs had a similar jaw, but no animals alive today have one like it.
Hadrosaurs had thousands of tiny teeth and the upper jaw is hinged in a way that allows it to expand outwards thus making a grinding motion to break down vegetation. This was likely a very important adaptation that gave the hadrosaurs an advantage. This method of grinding food is more advanced than other herbivores which relied on the use of gastroliths (gizzard stone).

The trip was a lot of fun. Even though I got sunburned, dehydrated, and worked until I lost the use of my arms it was definitely worth it. I learned that I'm definitely not cut out to be a paleontologist, but seeing a small portion of their process expanded my understanding of this branch of science.

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