A newly discovered species of dinosaur has been unearthed in Missouri, and it’s a “big, big deal” for more than one reason, a paleontologist said.
Finding a dinosaur skeleton in the Midwest is notable in itself, Guy Darrough said, but that of a previously unknown species?
“It’s like finding King Tut’s treasure in Missouri,” he said in a phone interview with McClatchy News.
Parrosaurus missouriensis, as the species has been dubbed, was misidentified for decades, based on a limited number of fossils found at the site. At one point, the creature was thought to be a type of long-necked dinosaur. Later, experts declared it was a species of dinosaur previously discovered in North Carolina.
“It wasn’t clear what this thing was all the way up until recently,” Darrough said.
Parrosaurus missouriensis was duck-billed and sported a spiked thumb on each hand, either for protection or mating, or both. Based on the skeletons recently pulled from the Chronister dig site — one adult and one juvenile — the beast would have been up to 30 feet long, weighing between 2 tons and 3 tons, Darrough said.
The 70-year-old has been patiently digging and excavating at the site for years, pulling bones and teeth from the clay alongside colleagues, the importance of what lay beneath growing clearer with each find.
Darrough and company reached out to the Field Museum in Chicago in 2016, and after seeing what had been found at the Missouri site, the museum has sent a steady stream of help ever since.
“Every time they’ve dug, they’ve found all kinds of neat stuff,” Darrough said, adding that the tooth of a tyrannosaurus has also been found at the site.
The main body of the adult Parrosaurus was extricated from the site only about a month ago, he said.
The adult skeleton has been shipped off to the Field Museum, and the juvenile will be on display at the Sainte Genevieve Museum Learning Center, where Darrough serves as the head curator.
“We’re calling ourselves the Official Missouri Dinosaur Visitor Site,” he said.
As long as he’s been at it, Darrough isn’t the first to get clay under his nails at the Chronister dig site; that honor goes to the Chronister family.
“You know when you’re a kid, and you pretend you’re a paleontologist, and you go and dig a hole in your backyard because you’re going to find a dinosaur down there? That never happens … except this time it did,” Peter Makovicky, University of Minnesota professor and former curator of dinosaurs at the Field Museum in Chicago, told McClatchy News.
In the early 1940s, the Chronister family began work on a cistern near their home, and in the process, unearthed several dinosaur bones. It would be about another 80 years before those bones could be reunited with the rest.
“Literally they dug a hole behind their house and [pieces of] a dinosaur popped out. That’s how this whole thing started,” Makovicky said.
With so much excavation now underway at Chronister, Makovicky and Darrough both are hopeful the site continues to reveal prehistoric fossils.
“As we keep digging, we keep finding more and more interesting things,” he said.
But it’s hard to know what to expect, Makovicky says; the site is in many ways a mystery.
“You don’t think of Missouri as dinosaur country,” he said. “You think of Utah or Montana.”
He’s been digging for dinosaurs for 25 years, in locations all over the globe, in different climates and environments — but never come across a site like Chronister.
“It’s an unusual site. It seems to be a small, contained clay deposit, unlinked to other deposits around it,” Makovicky said.
How far this clay deposit spans is not known, Makovicky says, at least not yet. And could these untapped sections hide even more discoveries? It’s possible.
“This is the best site, far and away, not only in Missouri, but potentially east of the Great Plains,” he said.