Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of duck-billed dinosaur along a creek in Alabama, suggesting that this scaly behemoth emerged from what was then Appalachia before spreading out to other parts of the world.
This new species, the first ever found in the eastern United States, was probably 20 to 30 feet long as an adult and lived during the late Cretaceous Period, roughly 83 million years ago. It mostly walked on its hind legs, though it could come down on all four to graze on plants with teeth that are similar to modern day horses and cows. It had a scaly exterior and a large crest on its nose.
“This is a really important animal in telling us how they came to be and how they spread all over the world,” said Florida State University Professor of Biological Science Gregory Erickson, one of the authors of a paper detailing the dinosaur in the findings the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The researchers named the new dinosaur Eotrachodon orientalis, which means “dawn rough tooth from the east.” The name pays homage to “Trachodon,” which was the first duck-billed dinosaur named in 1856.
The skeletal remains – a complete skull, dozens of backbones, a partial hip bone and a few bones from the limbs – were originally found by a team of amateur fossil enthusiasts alongside a creek in Montgomery County, Alabama in marine sediment. That would suggest the dinosaur likely was washed out to sea by river or stream sediments after it died.
When the group realized they had potentially discovered something of scientific importance, they contacted McWane Science Center in Birmingham, which dispatched a team to the site to carefully remove the remains from the surrounding rock.
During the late Cretaceous Period, North America was divided in half by a 1,000 mile ocean that connected the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. This body of water created two North American landmasses, Laramidia to the west and Appalachia to the east. Back then, Appalachia began roughly in Georgia and Alabama and stretched all the way north into Canada.
“For roughly 100 million years, the dinosaurs were not able to cross this barrier,” Jun Ebersole, director of collections at McWane Science Center, said. “The discovery of Eotrachodonsuggests that duck-billed dinosaurs originated in Appalachia and dispersed to other parts of the world at some point after the seaway lowered, opening a land corridor to western North America.”
“They just needed to get off the island,” he continued. “From there, they became the cows of the Cretaceous.”
The remains of Eotrachodon are housed at McWane Science Center in Birmingham and are currently on display in Ebersole’s laboratory.