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A novice fossil collector's lucky find in a remote Montana badlands more than a decade ago has turned out to be a new kind of spectacularly horned dinosaur, researchers have announced.
The bones were unearthed near Winifred, Montana. They represent a previously unknown species of dinosaur that lived 76 million years ago.
Its scientific name is Spiclypeus shipporum (spi-CLIP-ee-us ship-OR-um) but it's been nicknamed "Judith." The name was taken from the Judith River rock formation. That is where it was found in 2005 by retired nuclear physicist Bill Shipp.
Canadian Museum of Nature paleontologist Jordan Mallon says Judith is closely related to the well-known Triceratops. Both had horned faces and elaborate head frills. Judith's horns stick out sideway instead of over the eyes.
Like Triceratops, Judith was a plant-eater, approximately 15 feet long and weighing up to four tons, Mallon said.
Shipp told The Associated Press that he stumbled across what turned out to be Judith's femur bone in 2005.
He had hired an amateur paleontologist to give him an introduction to fossil hunting on a ranch Shipp owned near the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. As Shipp worked his way around an eroded rocky outcropping on the property, he saw a piece of bone sticking several inches out of the ground.
"I found it accidentally on purpose," Shipp said. "I was actually looking for dinosaur bones, but with no expectation of actually finding any."
After recovering six bones during an initial dig, Shipp brought in a team the next summer. The team spent two years excavating and cleaning the bones.
They ended up with half of Judith's skull and parts of its legs, hips and backbone. It wasn't until last year, after the bones were acquired by the Canadian Museum of Nature, that Mallon formally identified them as belonging to a new genus and species of dinosaur.
Judith was at least 10 years old when it died.
An examination of its bones was done by Edward Iuliano. He is a radiologist at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, Washington. The exam revealed evidence of a severe leg infection that would have left the animal hobbled. The injury made Judith potentially vulnerable to Tyrannosaurus rex-like predators that lived around the same period, Mallon said.
"It's an exciting story, because it's a new species. And yet we have this sort of pathetic individual that suffered throughout its lifetime," Mallon said. "If you're hobbling along on three limbs, you're probably not going to be able to keep up with the herd."
Details on the find were published in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.
A public exhibit featuring a reconstruction of Judith's skull and other bones from the find on Bill Shipp's ranch opens May 24. It will be at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.
Fewer than a dozen dinosaur species have been discovered in the Judith formation. This is despite more than a century of exploration in the area, said John Scannella. He is manager of paleontology collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.
"This new animal provides another piece in the puzzle of our view of what the ecosystem of central Montana 76 million years ago was like," Scannella said. "It really is our first glimpse of a whole new animal that we weren't aware of. That's inherently cool."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is it unusual for a first-time fossil hunter to find a dinosaur?
Write your answers in the comments section below