and Kris Parsons, a husband and wife team of American paleontologists has discovered
a new species of dinosaur that lived 112 million years ago during the early
Cretaceous of central Montana. The new dinosaur, a species of ankylosaur, is
documented in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.
Ankylosaurs are the biological version of an army tank. They are protected by a
plate-like armour with two sets of sharp spikes on each side of the head, and a
skull so thick that even ‘raptors’ such as Deinonychus could leave barely more than a scratch.
Parsons, Research associates of the Buffalo Museum of Science, found much of
the skull of the newly described Tatankacephalus cooneyorum resting on the surface of a hillside
in 1997. Because the skull was 90% complete, it was possible to justify this
fossil as a new species.
is the first member of Ankylosauridae to be found within the Early Cretaceous
Cloverly Geologic Formation,” said Bill Parsons, who characterized the fossil
as a transitional evolutionary form between the earlier Jurassic ankylosaurs
and the better known Late Cretaceous ankylosaurs.
skull is heavily protected by two sets of lateral horns, two thick domes at the
back, and smaller thickenings around the nasal region. “Heavy ornamentation and
horn-like plates would have covered most of the dorsal surface of this dinosaur”
said Bill Parsons.
years, Bill and Kris have been collecting fossils from a critical time in
Earth’s history, and their hard work has paid off,” said Lawrence Witmer, professor
of paleontology at Ohio University who was not involved with this study. “This
is a really important find and gives us a clearer view of the evolution of
armored dinosaurs. But this is just the first; I’m sure, of what will be a
series of important discoveries from this team.”
also illustrated the dermal armour of this new species based on a theory by
Museum of the Rockies paleontologist John R. Horner. Dr. Horner theorized that
the outer surface of the “armour” consisted of a keratinous sheathing
such as is found on modern turtle shells and bird beaks. In his new
reconstruction, Parsons’ illustration suggests that Tatankacephalus exhibited complex and colorful
patterns rather than the dull appearance suggested in some earlier ankylosaur
reconstructions. “According to Dr. Horner’s theory, many other dinosaurs
besides ankylosaurs may have possessed this kind of sheathing and also may have
been more diversely colored” said Parsons.
its name, the broad, short horns on the back of its skull resemble the horns
found on a modern buffalo skull and Tatankacephalus loosely translates as ‘Buffalo head.’ Parsons also noted, “Of
course any further allusions to the city of Buffalo are completely intentional”.
BILL AND KRIS PARSONS
primary focus of Bill and Kris’ research is the faunal community (dinosaurs
& etc.) represented within the fossil assemblage preserved in the Early
Cretaceous Cloverly Formation found in central Montana, approximately 112 to
115 million years old.
Parsons works as a teacher at the Gow School in South Wales, NY, and as
scientific illustrator for the Buffalo Museum of Science. He is also a
freelance dinosaur illustrator whose images have appeared on the covers of
Science, Nature, and Discover magazine and inside Time, Newsweek, and the
RollingStone. The publication of Tatankacephalus may be the first time that an
established dinosaur illustrator has discovered, prepared, researched, and
published on a new dinosaur taxon.
and Kris met at the Buffalo Museum of Science’s “Hiscock Dig”, an Ice Age
archaeological exploration of one of North America’s richest Ice Age sites in
Genesee County, New York, seasonally sponsored by the museum. A year after
meeting, Bill and Kris were married at the Hiscock site. They have now been
married for 15 years and live in South Wales, New York with their 7-month old
twin daughters, Charlotte and Samantha. With the help of several good friends,
the twins have accompanied their parents to Montana for their field research
and also spent three weeks out at the Hiscock site. The twins are already
veterans of two paleontological research expeditions, all before their first