This is the Nasutoceratops, a recently announced species of dinosaur.
Credit: Natural History Museum of Utah, Sammantha Zimmerman
“There’s just no other place anywhere on the planet where [dinosaurs are] just so beautifully exposed for the public to see,” paleontologist Jim Kirkland said in USA Today. “It’s the most famous place to see dinosaurs still in their host rock anywhere in the world. There is no place as spectacular as Dinosaur [National Monument].”
This statement still rings true today, as new species of dinosaurs are continually being discovered among the rocky deserts and eroding monuments that call Utah home. Not only are the fossilized bones of history’s giant reptiles unearthed, but their secrets as well, giving modern humanity a glimpse into Earth’s distant past. What dinosaurs looked like, sounded like, what they ate, and how they interacted has been unearthed.
Why is Utah a Dinosaur Haven?
According to a Science Friday interview with science writer Brian Switek, professor of geological sciences Brooks Britt, and curator of paleontology Randall Irmis, the Utah geological landscape during the time of the dinosaurs—and also how it has changed in the years since—has provided the perfect conditions for dinosaur life as well as bone and fossil preservation.
Switek, Britt and Irmis explained that Utah looked very different millions of years ago. Before it became defined by the lofty mountains and deep valleys that we are familiar with today, Utah was largely a basin, which is a flat area filled with sediment. Dinosaurs resided in these flat spaces, and with the absence of ice caps, the climate was very warm, which ultimately constructed a perfect environment for dinosaurs to thrive.
It is explained in the USA Today article, “Dinosaur Bones Are Big Business in Utah,” that fossil discoveries are so prevalent in Utah, in part, due to the sediment and preservative qualities of the prehistoric basin. The basin maintained the skeletal structures of these beasts so well, that when the Uinta Mountains began to form due to shifting tectonic plates, the fossilized bones were pushed upward with them. As the mountainsides began to erode, due to wind, water and time, the fossils were eventually revealed. In fact, the sediment in the Utah basin did such a great job at preserving, that more than just bones have been discovered still intact. Preserved skin was also found.
New and Interesting Findings: Fossilized Skin and a Ceratopsid
In Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an impression of something far more fragile than bone was discovered sealed in the sedimentary rock—the skin from a duck-billed dinosaur.
In 2006 paleontologist Alan Titus described to The Salt Lake City Tribune the feeling of finding something as rare as fossilized dinosaur skin. “Paleontologists can spend their whole careers and not see something this cool,” Titus said.
This is the Nasutoceratops.
Credit: Natural History Museum of Utah
According to The Salt Lake City Tribune, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been the site of at least nine potentially new dinosaur species in recent years, some of which are still being formally announced.
A recently announced dinosaur species discovered at the site is called the Nasutoceratops, a relative of the popular Triceratops. Being a ceratopsid, these dinosaurs “were a group of big-bodied, four-footed herbivores that lived during the late Cretaceous Period,” according to the Natural History Museum of Utah.
According to the museum, the main feature of the Nasutoceratops is an oddly enlarged nose, which is why the creature received its name, “Nasutoceratops,” which translates to “big-nose horned face.” Not the most flattering of names, but one look at the conceptual art sketch is proof of its suitability.
Simply taking a stroll through the rugged landscape of Utah will not guarantee the discovery of a fossil, but if you know where to look, the chances are not too slim. As Irmis told Science Friday, “If you want to find fossils from 500 million years ago to the present, you can pretty much find a rock layer in Utah that has them.” So keep your eye on Utah; you never know what new dinosaur species will emerge from its foundations.
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