September 29, 2023

Remains of a dinosaur species that may have changed its skin color like a chameleon are being excavated on a ranch in Montana.

The 65-million-year-old Edmontosaurus fossil—which lies east of Jordan, Montana—is being carefully plastered in preparation for it to be moved to a museum in October, Great Falls TV station KRTV reported.

Edmontosaurus was a herbivore that lived between the Campanian and Maastrichtian periods, 83.6 million to 66 million years ago. It was one of the last nonavian dinosaurs to exist. It lived alongside many other famous dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus, Albertosaurus and Daspletosaurus. Edmontosaurus was common prey for all of these carnivores.

A stock photo shows an Edmontosaurus. A fossil of the dinosaur discovered in Montana shows part of its skin.

Although often compared to reptiles because of their scaly skin and reptilian appearance, dinosaurs actually had more in common with birds. At some point during the Jurassic period, the birds diverged from a group of dinosaurs called theropods.

This particular Edmontosaurus fossil is very important for archaeologists because part of its skin is fossilized, KRTV said.

Most of the time, dinosaur bones can provide insights only into the size and build of a dinosaur. However, when the skin remains intact paleontologists can get a better picture of what the species looked like on the outside.

Paleontologist Alan Detrich, who discovered the fossil, estimates that the dinosaur would have been 35 feet long, KRTV said. He told the station he believes this dinosaur may have been able to alter its color, similar to modern-day reptiles like chameleons.

“That ain’t a bad thing if you’re 35-40-foot-long and got T. rex looking for you,” Deitrch told the station. “It was filet mignon. We have nicknamed this Peking duck. You know, that’s the quality food, Peking duck. We do that because kids like to call these Edmontosauruses duckbill dinosaurs.”

Also at the site were eight teeth that researchers believe belonged to Nanotyrannus, a predator very similar in build to the infamous T. rex, only much smaller.

Bobby Kerr, a rancher who works near the site where the dinosaur was discovered, has been assisting paleontologists with the excavation. He KRTV that they had probably “rolled it over horseback.”

“Didn’t know what was there because we’re out here looking for cows,” he told the station.

Although the excavation takes hard work in 100-degree weather, Detrich told the station that “the beauty of the country and the people” and “the mystery of these creatures that lived here, millions of years ago,” keeps him motivated.

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