Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rhinorex: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week let's look at a species of dinosaur that was unveiled only a few weeks ago!  Check out Rhinorex condrupusRhinorex was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Utah, USA, during the late Cretaceous Period about 75 million years ago.  It was a hadrosaurid, in the same family as other broad-billed duck-billed dinosaurs like Maiasaura, Anatotitan, and Hadroaurus.  From snout to tail it would have measured about thirty feet long.  The genus name, Rhinorex, translates to "Nose king" in reference to this dinosaur's large, down-turned snout.  Other duckbills have been found with similarly-shaped snouts, but none as extreme as Rhinorex's.  When alive, Rhinorex would have lived nearby other dinosaurs such as Coahuilaceratops, Teratophoneus, and its close relative, Gryposaurus.

life reconstruction of Rhinorex condrupus by Christopher DiPiazza.

Scientists are still not completely sure as to why Rhinorex had such a large nose.It may have been an adaptation for a specific feeding strategy.  It also may have been a display adaptation for attracting mates or intimidating rivals.  It may have even enabled Rhinorex to make certain sounds.  Lambiosaurine hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus, possessed crests on the tops of their heads for display and sound purposes.  It is possible that the lineage Rhinorex was from just applied the strategy to a different part of the skull. 

Reconstruction and photograph of Rhinorex skull.  Image from the recent paper, describing Rhinorex, by Terry Gates and Rodney Scheetz.

Rhinorex was the only well preserved dinosaur fossil found from its specific area thus far.  In addition to it's skull there was also some skin impressions found, which look similar to other known hadrosaur skins; fine pebble-like scales.  All other dinosaur fossils in Utah from the same time period were found hundreds of miles away and would have likely been adapted to a different kind of habitat.  Rhinorex helps fill in gaps previously unknown about Late Cretaceous ecosystems in Utah. 

That's all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Have a request?  Just let me know and I'll make it happen!

References

T.A. Gates & R. Scheetz (2014): A new saurolophine hadrosaurid (Dinosauria: Ornithopoda) from the Campanian of Utah, North America Journal of Systematic Paleontology. doi: 10.1080/14772019.2014.950614

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