Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Supporting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument since 2004

Category Archives: Paleontology

Personal Introduction of GSENM’s newest dinosaur, Lythronax argestes, by Dr. Alan Titus

Reconstruction of Lythronax skull

Come join Dr. Alan Titus as he gives a personal introduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s newest dinosaur, Tuesday, March 18, at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center starting at 7 p.m. The presentation is free and open to the public.

This newly named animal, Lythronax argestes (Lie-throw-nacks ar-jest-eez), is a tyrannosaur of the same family asT-rex, just 12 million years older!  In fact, it is so much older than T-rex that it is the oldest known true tyrannosaur ever named.  In keeping with spirit of its descendant’s name, Lythronax‘s name means “southern king of gore.”

While it is no surprise that T-rex‘s great, great-great-great-great-granddaddy (or grandmama, we’re not sure!) would be found someday, it is shocking at how similar these two animals are to each other.  As it turns out, Lythronax is more closely related to T-rex than any other tyrannosaur found in the intervening 12 million years that separates them.  It pushes back the evolution of T-rex-like animals much farther in time than previously thought.  It also suggests that true T-rex-like animals with massive heads and stereoscopic vision must have lived only in the southern U.S. until just before they went extinct.

GSENM Introduces Its Newest Dinosaur February 7

dnews New Dinosaur
KANAB, Utah – Come join Dr. Alan Titus as he gives a personal introduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s newest dinosaur, Friday, February 7, at the Bureau of Land Management’s Kanab Visitor Center starting at 7 p.m.  The presentation is free and open to the public.

This newly named animal, Lythronax argestes (Lie-throw-nacks ar-jest-eez), is a tyrannosaur of the same family asT-rex, just 12 million years older!  In fact, it is so much older than T-rex that it is the oldest known true tyrannosaur ever named.  In keeping with spirit of its descendant’s name, Lythronax‘s name means “southern king of gore.”

While it is no surprise that T-rex‘s great, great-great-great-great-granddaddy (or grandmama, we’re not sure!) would be found someday, it is shocking at how similar these two animals are to each other.  As it turns out, Lythronax is more closely related to T-rex than any other tyrannosaur found in the intervening 12 million years that separates them.  It pushes back the evolution of T-rex-like animals much farther in time than previously thought.  It also suggests that true T-rex-like animals with massive heads and stereoscopic vision must have lived only in the southern U.S. until just before they went extinct.

Glen Canyon Natural History Association will be at the presentation offering for sale copies of the new book on GSENM Cretaceous fossils, “At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah,” which Dr. Titus, chief editor and contributor of the book, will gladly sign.

Reconstruction of Lythronax skull

 

“I’m obviously very excited to talk about our newest named dinosaur,” said Dr. Titus, “and I’m even more thrilled to unveil a casting of the dinosaur’s skull at the event.  I’m sure everyone attending will want to bring a camera and get their picture with Lythronax.”

What’s in a Name?

Nasutoceratops titusi

Nasutoceratops titusi

Given that Dr. Alan Titus, GSENM paleontologist, just had a new species of dinosaur named after him, we thought some folks might like to know that while naming a dinosaur is easier than excavating one, it’s not just a walk in the park.  Much thought goes into it; it is an endeavor based on science, history, Latin, and sometimes whim.   So far we know that Nasutoceratops titusi is hard to pronounce.  Let’s dig a little deeper.

First you should know that Nasutoceratops is a ceratopsian and a relative of the more widely known Triceratops.  We won’t go into the origins of the word “ceratops” here but you should be aware that nasutus is Latin for “big-nosed” and by combining it with ceratops, somehow it becomes “big-nosed horn-faced.”  Nasutoceratops is now the third ceratopsian named from the Kaiparowits formation of the Monument; the first two were Kosmoceratops richardsoni and Utahceratops gettyi.

When a paleontologist prepares a new specimen, he or she compares all of its bones to other members of the same family to make sure the specimen is, in fact, a new genus based on different traits seen in the bones.  For example, the nose on Nasutoceratops is unique compared to noses of other ceratopsians, as is the position of its horn.  Since it is so different from ceratopsians here and around the world, the paleontologist assigned it a new genus.  Usually a genus incorporates a unique characteristic of the skeleton, as in Nasutoceratops’ nose, but this is not always the case.  Some are named after locations, as in Dr. Michael Getty’s Utahceratops gettyi.

Then comes the naming of the species. If specimens are very closely related but not identical, they get the same genus name but differing species names.  For example, Parasaurolophus (genus) has three recognized species: walkeri, tubicens, and cyrtocristatus.  Another example is humans:  there are many different species under the Homo genus, with species of sapien, habalis, erectus, etc. All these species have a shared trait that makes them fall within the same genus.

The species name can be used to honor a person or to specify a location. The paleontologist who named Nasutoceratops chose to honor Alan Titus by assigning the species name of titusi.  Sometimes the species name is the surname of the person who discovered it; Kosmoceratops richardsoni is named after Dr. Scott Richardson, who found it.

There is one caveat, though: if you work on the scientific publication that names the animal, you cannot name it after yourself.  Other than that, you can name it whatever you want.  There are fossils named after famous musicians or actors who had no idea that it happened.  A new species of oceanic worm is named Yoda purpurata after Star Wars.  If someone were to donate heavily to an excavation, the new fossil could be named after them or their organization.  Technically we could have a dinosaur named McDonaldsaurus bigmaci. So let us know if you would like to donate heavily to the next excavation on the Kaiparowits and we’ll throw your name in the hat :-).

Thank you to our paleo lab coordinator, Tylor Birthisel, for providing the information in this article.

 

 

March 22nd – Important Date!

GSE Partners is participating in a “Love Utah Give Utah” day of giving on March 22, 2013.  This is a 24-hour virtual event that encourages people to contribute to the Utah nonprofit organizations of their choice through a single online giving platform.

Partners volunteer Don Fox shows a Kanab student how to use an "atlatl," an ancient hunting tool.

Partners volunteer Don Fox shows a Kanab student how to use an “atlatl,” an ancient hunting tool.

Partners has its own page on the site; it shares in words and pictures who we are and what we are about.  On March 22, log on to loveUTgiveUT.org, type “Grand Staircase” in the Browse field and click on our name to get to our page.  It is that simple.  And we have a matching grant contributed by a supporter, so the first few donations will be doubled.

We want to continue educating students in communities near the Monument about the amazing things that happened in their back yard starting around 75 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the area.  We give them the opportunity to learn how the ancient Monument inhabitants of 900 years ago lived their lives and communicated — without Smart Phones! 

This is only one of our programs that call on the Monument’s incredible resources to tell people what a treasure it is and why we must protect it for future generations. In addition to grant monies, we rely on memberships and donations to keep us going, which is why we are participating in Love Utah Give Utah day.

We hope that Partners is one of your favorite Utah nonprofits and that you believe in our mission. All donations are tax deductible, and you will receive a receipt via email so you have a record of giving when tax time comes. The minimum donation is $10; there is no maximum donation limit.

Love UT Give UT is modeled after many similar events across the country; the Community Foundation of Utah is leading this campaign and is providing the web site for donations in partnership with the Razoo Foundation, a registered 501(c)(3) public charity.