Dinosaur Fossils Don’t Get Much Better Than This

© Royal Tyrrell Museum
© Royal Tyrrell Museum

Attention dinosaur nerds: if you haven’t already, you’re going to want to add Alberta, Canada, to your bucket list, as the province now hosts one of the most spectacular dino fossils the world has ever seen.

Alberta is well known as home to one of the densest dinosaur deposits on the planet. The Canadian Rockies in general are rich in both fossils and fossil fuels, and the search for one has not infrequently led to the other. The latest stunner was unearthed in 2011 by workers in a mine near Fort McMurray, who knew something was amiss when their bucket pulled up oddly patterned, deep-brown lumps of some unfamiliar mineral. They dug in farther, more carefully, and that’s when they found it: a 9-foot-long chunk of monster, sculpted in stone.

But there had been no sculptor, only time and happenstance. The 2500-pound stone that eventually emerged was not a skull, or a footprint, or an egg. It was a petrified dinosaur.

“We don’t just have a skeleton,” Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where the dinosaur is on display, told National Geographic. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

And not just any dinosaur, either. The hulking, armored beast preserved in the oil sands is new to science, the first of its species ever found. We know that it’s a type of ankylosaur called a nodosaur, and that its last days likely took place somewhere between 110 and 112 million years ago.


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

The recovered fossil contains only the dinosaur’s front end to its hips. In life, the nodosaur would have been 18 feet long and almost 3000 pounds. If that wasn’t enough to keep the haters away, it also had a pair of 20-inch spikes protruding from its shoulders, like a boss. Even in death, this herbivore looks tough.

Needless to say, dinosaur researchers are beside themselves with glee. The preservation is so good, paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol told National Geographic, that “it might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago.”

[h/t National Geographic]

A Newly Discovered Species of Prehistoric Shark Was Named After the Video Game Galaga

Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum
Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum

Dinosaurs weren’t the only fearsome creatures who called North America their home millions of years ago. The recent discovery of pointy, fossilized teeth in rock that had been left over from an excavation in the ‘90s has led scientists to declare a new—yet long-extinct—shark species, Smithsonian reports.

North Carolina State University professor Terry Gates, who led the study published in the Journal of Paleontology, named the shark species Galagadon nordquistae after its triangular teeth, which he thought resembled the shape of the battleships in the video game Galaga. The second part of the name pays homage to Karen Nordquist, the retired chemist and volunteer at Chicago’s Field Museum who found the fossils in the first place.

Galagadon lived in what we now know as South Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, an area known for having rocks and fossils that date back at least 65 million years to the Cretaceous Period. It’s the same place where scientists unearthed Sue the T.rex—the most complete skeleton of its species ever discovered. Not only did the shark live at the same time as Sue, but it also “lived in a river Sue probably drank from,” the Field Museum, where Sue can be seen on display, said in a press release.

In fact, the excavation that led to Sue’s discovery in 1990 is what enabled this latest find. The sediment that encased Sue’s bones, known as matrix, was removed and stored in an underground unit at the Field Museum. Scientists and museum volunteers have only recently begun to sift through it in search of smaller fossils.

Shark tooth fossils
Terry Gates, Journal of Paleontology

Sharks’ skeletons are primarily made of cartilage, which deteriorates over time. But the tiny teeth, measuring just a millimeter wide, helped scientists figure out what the shark looked like. "Galagadon was less than 2 feet long—it's not exactly Jaws," Pete Makovicky, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

The species is believed to be similar to bamboo sharks, which can be found today in southeast Asia and Australia. This connection surprised researchers, who are now questioning their understanding of the area where Sue was found, which was thought to be a lake formed from a partially dried-up river. This latest discovery, however, indicates that there “must have been at least some connection to marine environments," Makovicky says.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Sue the T. Rex Will Return to Chicago's Field Museum in December

Tim Boyle, Newsmakers
Tim Boyle, Newsmakers

Sue, the most complete T. rex fossil ever discovered, is getting new digs. The famous dinosaur was moved from its longtime home in the Field Museum's main hall in February while the museum constructed a new exhibition space, but according to the Chicago Tribune, Sue will soon be on view again.

Starting December 21, you’ll be able to see Sue in a new gallery that's part of the Chicago institution’s "Evolving Planet" exhibition. The new 5100-square-foot hall is designed to bring visitors into Sue’s world with interactive displays and cutting-edge animations.

While Sue’s former home in the museum’s grand entrance hall provided visitors with an eye-catching view, the space just didn’t do the dino justice. “When Sue was in Stanley Field Hall, a lot of people would say, ‘Aw, Sue’s smaller than I thought,’” Field Museum President Richard Lariviere explained in a press release. The new hall does a better job of showcasing just how imposing the specimen is, and how terrifying they would have been to encounter when alive. (Sue was named after explorer Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the fossil, but it’s unclear whether the dinosaur was male or female. For the sake of accuracy and inclusivity, the museum refers to the specimen as “they.”)

An updated version of Sue the T. rex
Field Museum

The new animations in the exhibition will explore how Sue would have interacted with other dinosaurs, what the landscape of their territory would have looked like, and more. The exhibition will also tell the story of Sue’s discovery and discuss all the new information scientists have learned about T. rex since Sue first came to the museum.

Sue’s surroundings aren’t the only thing that’s different. The specimen itself has gotten an upgrade, too. When Sue was first uncovered in the 1990s, scientists weren’t exactly sure what to do with some of their bones. We now know that these bones—called the gastralia—formed a rib-like unit across the dinosaur’s belly and helped support the respiratory system (similar to how we use our diaphragms). In addition to Sue's now-bulging belly, Field Museum scientists have made a few other tweaks so that the specimen more accurately reflects current understanding of dinosaur physiology. Instead of skulking, the repositioned Sue will be walking. Their arms will come down a bit, and their wishbone will be adjusted slightly.

“This is the biggest, scariest, and most impressive Sue’s ever looked,” Lavriviere said.

[h/t Chicago Tribune]

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