Fossils pertaining to a new species of Arctic dinosaur were discovered in Northern Alaska, and it is believed they may be 69 million years old. This is the northernmost area where dinosaurs have ever been discovered.
Initially, for more than 25 years, the dinosaur bones were thought to belong to another species called Edmontosaurus, which had also been identified in the Prince Creek formation of the Liscomb Bone Bed, along the Colville River. However, upon closer inspection of the animal’s mouth and skull structure, experts realized that this is an entirely new specimen.
It was not Edmontosaurus, which had been encountered before in Canada and the U.S. states of Montana and South Dakota. The dissimilarities between the two species hadn’t been obvious at first, because the fossils belonged to young animals, but further analysis revealed clear variations.
According to museum experts, more than 6,000 bones belonging to this new species were unearthed and catalogued, their number surpassing any other known Alaska dinosaur. Most of the fragments belonged to juvenile dinosaurs, which had been around 9 feet long. The cubs might have been killed suddenly in an attack that wiped out an entire group.
The dinosaur species was named by scientists “Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis” (ancient grazer of the Colville River), with the assistance of Alaskan Inupiat Eskimos, who speak the Inupiaq language. It is estimated that the prehistoric reptile could grow to be approximately 30 feet long.
It was a herbivore, which thrived in herds and belonged to the hadrosaurid (duck-billed) family, a distant ancestor of modern-day birds. The plant-eater put most of its weight on its hind legs, but could walk on all fours.
According to Pat Druckenmille, earth sciences curator at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks, it may be possible that when this dinosaur species roamed the earth, Northern Alaska had a warmer climate and was covered in forest.
However, the species is still thought to have weathered average temperatures of 43 degrees Fahrenheit, heavy snow and polar nights lasting several months. Its environment was an arctic coastal flood plain, above the paleo-Arctic Circle.
As biology professor Greg Erickson of the Florida State University has pointed out, these findings, published in the Acta Palaeontologica Polonica journal, contradict the previously held belief that dinosaurs couldn’t have survived in Arctic climates.
Finding fossils as far up north as Northern Alaska makes experts wonder how the reptiles managed to survive this long at such low temperatures, given their physiology. Most modern-day reptiles are unable to adapt themselves to cold weather, since they don’t possess thermoregulation which minimizes heat loss though a metabolic process.
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