Oct 22, 2013 12:32 PM EDT
High School Kid Discovers Full Skeleton Of Baby Duck-Billed Dinosaur (PHOTOS)
With so many fossils already uncovered, finding the next one may be more about timing than anything else.
Seventeen-year-old Kevin Terris was the latest amateur to stumble upon a rare dinosaur fossil. Just a few days after paleontologists inspected the very same area, the high school student spotted a piece of exposed bone from the near complete skeleton of a baby Parasaurolophus, or "duck-billed dinosaur," according to the press release.
The discovery was made in 2009, but announced Tuesday by the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology.
"It's a little embarrassing to walk by something like that," admitted Andrew Farke, one of the unlucky paleontologists and current curator of the museum, "but he was just in the right place at the right time, looking in the right direction."
"At first I was interested in seeing what the initial piece of bone sticking out of the rock was," Terris said about his fortunate find at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. "When we exposed the skull, I was ecstatic."
The duck-billed skeleton, nicknamed "Joe, is the most complete specimen of its kind on record, the museum reported. Duck-billed dinosaurs were plant-eaters who lived in Northwest North America around 75 million years ago.
Before Terris' find, the best representations of Parasaurolophus dinosaurs were partial skulls, according to the press release. Making his discovery more remarkable was the fact that Joe was a baby -- only a year old. Infant dinosaur fossils are rare, according to The Guardian. The dinosaur would have been about 6-feet in length with the potential to reach 25 feet.
"Dinosaurs have yearly growth rings in their bone tissue, like trees. But we didn't see even one ring," said study coauthor Sarah Werning of Stony Brook University. "That means it grew to a quarter of adult size in less than a year."
The youth of the specimen also added insight into an aspect of the species' development. Duck-billed dinosaurs derive their nickname from their bird-like facial structure and the "trumpet sound" created by a bone formation at the top of their skull. That formation was much less pronounced on baby Joe, but more advanced than similar dinosaur species with headgear.
"Our baby Parasaurolophus is barely one-quarter of adult size, but it had already started growing its crest," said lead project scientist Andrew Farke. "This is surprising, because related dinosaurs didn't sprout their ornamentation until they were at least half-grown. Parasaurolophus had to get an early start to d to get an early start in order to form its unique headgear."
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