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Bizarre New Shovel-Faced Dinosaur Discovered in Texas

The club of weird, giant, prehistoric bird-lizards we call dinosaurs just got a new member, and this one has a face like a shovel. Aquilarhinus palimentus was discovered at Big Bend National Park in the Chihuahuan Desert and belongs to a group of other strange-faced dinosaurs called Hadrosaurids, known for their distinctive “duck-bill” jaws. This newly identified hadrosaurid genus roamed the Earth roughly 80 million years ago when the Chihuahuan desert was a lush river delta, and represents the most primitive species of hadrosaurid yet discovered.

The discovery was published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology earlier this week. According to the paper, the name Aquilarhinus palimentus refers to the shape of the dinosaurs face and is Latin for eagle-nosed shovel-chin, which sounds like an insult from a schoolyard bully. If dinosaurs have ghosts, that’s one angry shovel-faced dino-ghost. You can see an artist’s rendition of the unfortunate beast here.

Part of the dinosaur’s remains were actually discovered in the 1980’s by paleontologist Tom Lehman, one of the co-authors of the new study and professor of paleontology at Texas Tech University. The fossils were originally misidentified as belonging to a member of the Gryposaurus genus of duck-billed dinos. Revisiting the fossilized bones, however, showed that this was an example of an entirely new subspecies of Hadrosaurid.

Duck-billed dinosaurs

Art of two Hadrosaurids feeding in a river bed.

Old shovel-face represents the most primitive example of the Hadrosaurid family of dinosaurs ever discovered. According to professor Tom Lehman:

“This new species is particularly interesting because it is among the earlier representatives of the duck-billed dinosaurs, and it shows us what the narial crest, or nose, of these animals looked like before the wide variety of distinctive noses evolved in later species of duck-billed dinosaurs.

 

In addition, instead of a duck bill, this animal had a shovel-shaped beak that suggests it had a unique way of feeding. Most of what we know about duck-billed dinosaurs is based on the wide variety of species found in Alberta, Canada, Montana and Utah. So, this new species also is interesting because it shows us that duck-billed dinosaurs that lived in Texas were different from those that lived farther north.”

Hadrosaur family tree

The Hadrosaur evolutionary tree, of which the recently discovered dinosaur is the earliest known member. Credit: Debivort (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The area of big Bend National Park where the discovery was made looked very different 80 million years ago when Aquilarhinus palimentus was alive. It was a wet and silty river delta and researchers believe Aquilarhinus palimentus used its unique jaw to scoop silt out of the river bed, eating the loosely rooted plants of the tidal river delta. The researchers believe that when the dinosaur died, its remains were washed downstream and covered with silt over the course of millions of years.

According to the researchers this discovery suggests that there may be many more lineages of Hadrosaurid yet to be discovered, and if the previous findings are to be any indication they’ll likely also be ridiculous.