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Dinosaur Discovery: Student Kevin Terris Finds Rare Fossil of Parasaurolophus

By Michele Berger
Published: October 23, 2013

Talk about the discovery of a lifetime. When then-high schooler Kevin Terris stumbled on a fossil in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah — one missed by two professional paleontologists — he hit the jackpot. It was the “youngest, smallest and most complete fossil skeleton yet known from the iconic tube-crested dinosaur Parasaurolophus,” notes a release from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, Calif., where the fossil now lives.

Terris made the discovery in 2009, but the dino’s identity wasn’t published until yesterday in PeerJ, an open-access peer-reviewed journal.

“Joe,” as the specimen was called after a long-time Alf Museum supporter, was a duck-billed herbivore that lived in North America some 75 million years ago. It was less than 6 feet in length when it died, about one-quarter the maximum size of an adult, and probably about a year old, according to the PeerJ paper.

(MORE: 9 Lost Cities that were Rediscovered

The finding offers scientists the chance to learn about the dinosaur’s life cycles. For example, they learned that Parasaurolophus grew significantly and quickly during its first year of life. (It takes us 15 to 20 years to grow the same amount.) The fossil also revealed that the ornamental crest that becomes very large on an adult was just a bump on Joe, yet more developed than other similar species would have had at his age. This shows that the shape of the crest morphed drastically through the life of a single animal,” states a site dedicated to all-things Joe.

For Terris, it was a thrilling moment. “At first I was interested in seeing what the initial piece of bone sticking out of the rock was,” he stated in a news release. “When we exposed the skull, I was ecstatic!”

For dinosaur lovers, it’s a sign to keep on looking. “There are more dinosaurs hiding just under the surface than we’ll ever know,” writes Brian Switek for National Geographic. “Every single skeleton, every single bone or tooth, is a time capsule that still contains traces of life that we can sadly never witness firsthand. That we can understand Joe’s life in such detail is a testament to how much the fossil record can tell us, and how much we may yet learn about lost worlds.”

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