Bizarre, Trowel-Jawed 80 Million-Year-Old Duck-Billed Dinosaur Discovered in Texas

Researchers have identified a new species of duck-billed dinosaur which lived around 80 million years ago in what is now the Chihuahuan Desert portion of Big Bend National Park, Texas.

While the area where the creature was found is now arid, at the time it was the site of a river delta and tidal marshes covered in aquatic plants.

The international team of scientists has named the new species Aquilarhinus palimentus, which refers to its strange hooked nose and wide lower jaws, according to a study published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

The team think that when the dinosaur died, the remains may have been transported by tidal waters and eventually became stuck in vegetation. Then, over millions of years, the remains were covered in silt, fossilizing the bones in a type of sedimentary rock known as ironstone.

Some of the remains were actually first discovered encased in rock layers at Rattle Snake Mountain in the 1980s by one of the authors of the study, Tom Lehman, from Texas Tech University.

The problem was that some of the bones were fused together, making them very difficult to study. In the following decade, scientists managed to identify an arched nasal crest which led them to the conclusion that the remains represented an already documented species of dinosaur known as Gryposaurus.

But the recent research has laid rest to that conclusion by identifying the remains as belonging to a new species and, indeed, a new genus—or group of species. The remains that the palaeontologists investigated included a complete skull, in addition to vertebrae, leg bones and other skeleton parts.

The analysis of the bones revealed that this species appeared to possess different characteristics to Gryposaurus, as well as those of the animals belonging to the two main groups of duck-billed dinosaurs, which are known by the scientific name hadrosaurids.

"This new animal is one of the more primitive hadrosaurids known and can therefore help us to understand how and why the ornamentation on their heads evolved, as well as where the group initially evolved and migrated from," Albert Prieto-Márquez, lead author of the study from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, near Barcelona, said in a statement.

"Its existence adds another piece of evidence to the growing hypothesis, still up in the air, that the group began in the southeastern area of the U.S," he said.

Hadrosaurid dinosaurs are all characterized by the duck-billed appearance of their snouts. They roamed what is now Asia, Europe Antarctica, South America and North America during the Late Cretaceous Period (100.5–66 million years ago.)

Aquilarhinus palimentu, dinosaur
Artist's illustration of Aquilarhinus palimentus. ICRA Art