In 2009, 17-year-old Kevin Terris discovered a major baby dinosaur fossil while on a school trip to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah. “At first I was interested in seeing what the initial piece of bone sticking out of the rock was. When we exposed the skull, I was ecstatic,” he said.
Now, the bones of baby dinosaur “Joe” are on display at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, which announced the important fossil’s discovery yesterday:
Detailed study of the skeleton of "Joe" identified it as the most complete specimen yet known for Parasaurolophus (pronounced PAIR-uh-SORE-AH-luf-us), a duck-billed (hadrosaurid) dinosaur that lived throughout western North America around 75 million years ago. The herbivore is notable for a long and hollow bony tube on the top of its skull, which scientists speculate was used like a trumpet to blast sound for communication, as well as a billboard for visual display. Although partial skulls and skeletons of full-grown Parasaurolophus have been known for over 90 years, scientists previously knew little about how Parasaurolophus grew up.
Baby Joe was younger than a year old when he died, and measured roughly 6-feet from dino-nose to tail — less than one quarter the length of an adult Parasaurolophus. Scientists were surprised to discover how pronounced the bump on his skull was, as most dinosaurs don’t develop comparable headgear until they reach half their adult size. A report detailing the findings was published on PeerJ today, and is available for free. If you prefer to see 3D digital scans of the fossil, you can check them out on Joe's eponymous website.
Terris beat out two professional paleontologists to finding the 75-million-year-old fossil, which the Alf museum called the “youngest, smallest and most complete” Parasaurolophus skeleton to date. Museum curator Andrew Farke and director Don Lofgren walked past the suspect stone without noticing it just a few days before Terris made his discovery:
"It's a little embarrassing to walk by something like that," admitted Andrew Farke, curator of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools, "but he was just in the right place at the right time, looking in the right direction."