Friday, 16 September 2011

The Youngest And The Newest Nodosaur In The News

The fossil hatchling of Propanoplosaurus marylandicus discovered
by Ray Stanford. Each increment on the ruler represents one centimetre
A discovery of a Nodosaur (a type of large armoured dinosaur) has been described as the youngest and indeed the newest species of dinosaur discovered. The fossil was discovered in 1997 by amateur palaeontologist Ray Stanford in a dried up creek near his home in Maryland, USA. Stanford identified it as a Nodosaur on account of the distinctive nodules on the skull and promptly contacted Dr David Weishampel, a dinosaur expert from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

They compared extensive computer scans of the fossil with other fossil Nodosaurs first in the USA, an easy task due to the fact that there are few Nodosaur species on America, and then on an international level. They found close matches. However this creature had a far shorter snout and was found to be a completely new, 110 million year old species. It was named Propanoplosaurus marylandicus. Weishampel subsequently carried out further analysis to try and find out more about the species and the individual itself.

It is likely that this creature had a very similar lifestyle to other Nodosaurs, large armoured herbivores which could have lived in fern and scrub land environments. The interesting thing was the creature's biological age. The first clue came from the fact that it was just 13 centimetres long, shorter than a dollar bill. A second piece of evidence came from the bones. Weishampel studied the level of development and articulation in the bones and subsequently concluded that the creature was a true hatchling no more than a few hours old.

He theorised that the area was once a floodplain on account of the composition of the sediment surrounding the fossil and that the newly hatched dinosaur had been caught in a flash flood, causing the unlikely preservation. Such a tale is rather sad when one looks at the age of the creature. It was possible that the creature was an embryo. However this is made unlikely by some truly tiny footprints, belonging to a Nodosaur found close to the fossil on the original site.

Stanford has donated the hatchling Nodosaur to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where it is now on display to the public and also available for research.'We didn't know much about hatchling nodosaurs at all prior to this discovery,' says Weishampel. 'And this is certainly enough to motivate more searches for dinosaurs in Maryland, along with more analysis of Maryland dinosaurs.'