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New dinosaur species adds to knowledge of New Mexico’s diverse past

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When the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science first received a dinosaur skull that had been removed from the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area south of Farmington, paleontologists believed that it was a pentaceratops.

Museum of Paleontology curator Spencer Lucas explained that pentaceratops is the common ceratopsian species found in the Bisti. Ceratopsian dinosaurs, the best known of which is the triceratops, are a type of horned dinosaur.

About five years ago, Lucas said paleontologists began to suspect the skull belonged to a different species, which had yet to be identified.

A team of scientists including Lucas published an article in the Bulletin of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science describe and name the new species, Bisticeratops froeseorum.

Lucas said the dinosaur lived about 74 million years ago when a seashore ran through parts of New Mexico and the Bisti area would have been a tropical jungle environment west of the coast.

The dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago. Lucas said the Bisticeratops and other ceratopsian species in North America lived towards the end of the dinosaur era.

The ceratopsian dinosaurs, he said, were very successful and the Bisticeratops helps demonstrate that this type of dinosaur was diverse.

The discovery along with other scientific work provides evidence that different dinosaurs lived in what is now the southwestern United States and lived farther north in areas like present-day Montana, Lucas said.

His skull was first removed from the Bisti in 1975 by a team from the University of Arizona and moved to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in the early 2000s.

Lucas said it was placed in plaster after being removed from the Bisti, as is common practice for dinosaur fossils.

Museum paleontologists began cleaning it after the museum received it. While working on the skull, they noticed some differences that indicated it was not a pentaceratops.

Lucas said the newly identified dinosaur adds to the evidence that ceratopsians, and dinosaurs as a whole, were more diverse than previously thought. He said that even today people tend to underestimate biodiversity.

The ceratopsian dinosaurs, which are part of the Chasmosaurinae subfamily, originating in what is now called Asia before migrating to North America where Lucas said they branched out.

According to the article, five species of ceratops other than the Bisticeratops are recognized that have been found in the San Juan Basin.

The first of these to be identified was Pentaceratops (Pentaceratops sternbergi), identified in 1923.

The other four have been identified since the 2010s and include Ojoceratops fowleri, Titanoceratops ouranos, Navajoceratops sullivani and Terminocavus sealeyi.

Lucas and paleontologist Sebastian Dalman, who helped name the Bisticeratopswere part of a team that also identified a species of ceratops called Sierraceratops turneri which was found in New Mexico, but was found outside of the San Juan Basin in the south central part of the state.

Dalman referenced one of his favorite bands, Tangerine Dream, during the nomination Bisticeratops froeseorum. The band founder’s surname was Froese.

While Lucas said the identification of new dinosaur species is more common than many people realize, it’s always an exciting event and a way for the Museum of Natural History and Science of New -Mexico to fulfill the mission entrusted to it by the state legislature when the museum was established. In the 1980’s.

By educating the public about dinosaurs and New Mexico’s past, Lucas hopes to inspire the next generation of scientists.

He said that for many children, dinosaurs are the first thing that sparks their interest in science. While some, like Lucas, become paleontologists, others pursue paths in medicine, engineering or other scientific fields.

The discovery also highlights the importance of protecting areas such as the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

The Bisti area is New Mexico’s hotspot for dinosaur fossils. Lucas said that acre for acre there were more dinosaurs in the Bisti area than anywhere else in the state and he believed more dinosaurs would be discovered there.

Lucas said that’s one of the reasons it’s been designated a wilderness area, which helps protect the fossil-rich landscape from human development.