An “exquisitely preserved” skull of a dinosaur with an odd looking curved tube on its head and that lived about 75 million years ago has been unearthed in the New Mexico badlands.
A partial skull, a portion of the lower jaw, and several ribs were unearthed deep in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness of New Mexico by Erin Spear from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. In fact, when they were found, only a small part of the skull was noticeable on the steep sandstone slope. Even though it was found back in 2017, it took until now for the scientists to detail the discovery.
The bones belonged to a herbivorous, tube-crested dinosaur genus called Parasaurolophus that roamed around New Mexico between 76.5 million and 73 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period. This specific species, which has been named Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus, had a very unique skull as its trumpet-like nasal passages blew air into the tube located on its head.
It measured approximately 7.5 feet tall and about 20 feet in length. It lived alongside crestless duckbilled dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurs, and horned dinosaurs, along with turtles and alligators.
Professor Terry Gates, who is a paleontologist from North Carolina State University, described how exciting this discovery was, “My jaw dropped when I first saw the fossil.” “I’ve been waiting for nearly 20 years to see a specimen of this quality.” He went on to explain how unique this species’ head was, “Imagine your nose growing up your face, three feet behind your head, then turning around to attach above your eyes.” “Parasaurolophus breathed through eight feet of pipe before oxygen ever reached its head.”
The fact that the elongated tube-like crest was still intact was actually quite surprising and gave experts an opportunity to find out exactly what it was used for. David Evans, who is the Temerty Chair in Vertebrate Palaeontology and Vice President of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum, went into further details by explaining, “Over the past 100 years, ideas for the purpose of the exaggerated tube crest have ranged from snorkels to super sniffers,” adding, “But after decades of study, we now think these crests functioned primarily as sound resonators and visual displays used to communicate within their own species.”
Interestingly, one specimen belonging to the Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus was discovered in the same area back in 1923 by American fossil hunter Charles H. Sternberg. There were two other species belonging to the Parasaurolophus genus and they were called P. walkeri (those remains were discovered in Alberta, Canada, in 1921) and P. tubicen (those bones were recovered in New Mexico). The Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus was the smallest of the three species and had the curviest crest.
Images of what the Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus would have looked like 75 million years ago and a photo of the skull in the ground can be seen here.
Their research was published in the journal PeerJ where it can be read in full.