An amateur fossil collector has accidentally discovered a new dinosaur species the size of an adult African elephant, and given it the name Judith.
Bill Shipp, a nuclear physicist and Montana landowner, went out prospecting for fossils on his property and found Judith’s leg bone sticking out of the earth on his first search. That was in 2005.
Although it was discovered more than ten years ago, it has only now been formally recognised as a separate species in a study carried out by the Canadian Museum of Nature.
The beast, which has a large head with a frill, is named Spiclypeus shipporum in honour of the man who found it and from the Latin word for spiked shield.
According to lead author Jordan Mallon of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa and his colleagues, the creature was different from other horned dinosaurs because of the way its horns were oriented sideways in the skull. In addition, its frill contained an array of uniquely formed bony spikes, some of which curled forward and some of which projected outward.
“This is a spectacular new addition to the family of horned dinosaurs that roamed western North America between 85 and 66 million years ago,” Mallon explained Wednesday in a statement. “It provides new evidence of dinosaur diversity during the Late Cretaceous period from an area that is likely to yield even more discoveries.”
Analysis of the specimen, affectionately known as “Judith” because of where it was discovered, also revealed that the Spiclypeus shipporum may have been in pain throughout its life. The upper part of the arm bone (the humerus) showed signs of arthritis and bone infection, according to the study authors. Even so, the creature is believed to have been 10 years old when it died.
Spiclypeus shipporum is the ninth known dinosaur species to have been identified from remains discovered in or around Montana’s Judith River Formation, and when combined with previously published studies, it indicates that dinosaur faunas in western North American could have been highly localized some 70-80 million years ago. The newest fossils were found on land belonging to retired nuclear physicist Dr. Bill Shipp, for whom the creature is partially named.
“Little did I know that the first time I went fossil hunting I would stumble on a new species,” he noted in a statement. “As a scientist, I’m really pleased that the Canadian Museum of Nature has recognized the dinosaur’s value, and that it can now be accessed by researchers around the world as part of the museum’s fossil collections.”