Baby dinosaur parts in Alaska prove existence of Arctic dinos, says researcher

·3 min read
Pat Druckenmiller and Greg Erickson chisel out a bone from a rock slab along the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope. (Kevin May - image credit)
Pat Druckenmiller and Greg Erickson chisel out a bone from a rock slab along the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope. (Kevin May - image credit)

New evidence has found that several species of dinosaurs lived in northern Alaska — and one of the researchers is a graduate from the University of Calgary.

According to research published in the peer-reviewed journal, Current Biology, fossils of baby dinosaur bones and eggs were found along the Colville River in northern Alaska.

It's the first convincing evidence that dinosaurs lived that far north.

Patrick Druckenmiller, a researcher on the project who completed his doctorate at the University of Calgary, talked about the project with The Homestretch on Thursday.

He says the research team found hundreds of small baby dinosaur bones, including tiny teeth from dinos young enough to have either still been in the egg or newly hatched.

Kevin May
Kevin May

"It's pretty crazy just to find dinosaurs that lived so far north, but to find evidence that they were actually reproducing and nesting, that was something that really kind of threw us for a loop."

At least 7 dinosaur species

The researcher says the group found a variety of species in the area, like duck-billed dinosaurs, horned dinosaurs and even Tyrannosaurus.

"Plant eaters and meat eaters and also small and large bodied individuals, so it wasn't just one or two species that had figured it out."

He adds that the news of the dinosaur nests may prove that these species were living up north all year-round.

"They had to deal with the winter that included freezing temperatures, snow and most particularly three to four months of continuous winter darkness. And that's not the kind of world we generally think of dinosaurs living in," he said.

It also helps indicate that the majority of dinosaurs were warm-blooded — a theory yet to be completely proven.

"The only kind of critters we find up in these high latitude deposits, which was as much as 80 to 85 degrees north, are our animals like dinosaurs, mammals and birds, which … at least two of those are warm-blooded."

Pat Druckenmiller
Pat Druckenmiller

In terms of a food source, Druckenmiller says some dinosaurs may have either hibernated or did what moose do today.

"They slowly starve all winter, but hopefully (the moose) have enough fat reserves to make it through the winter, in addition to eating bark and twigs and things of that. So presumably some of these dinosaurs had some sort of similar adaptations."

'Significant discovery'

Druckenmiller, who is the director at the University of Alaska Museum, says it wasn't that long ago that the idea of finding any dinosaurs in such extreme latitudes and environments was extremely novel.

He says most of the study results were from the past decade, but it wasn't until a couple of years ago that they realized the pieces they dug up were dinosaurs.

"It was a slow process of finding little bones, and we started to realize these weren't small individuals, these were embryonic-sized dinosaurs," he said.

Illustration by Patrick Druckenmiller/Current Biology
Illustration by Patrick Druckenmiller/Current Biology

He says the many bones that were extracted were mostly found in small deposits in river-cut steep bluffs — so difficult to get to that planes and boats are required.

"We dug them out and literally saved every grain of sediment from these special little layers we found. And then we had to go back to the lab and pick through every grain."

Now, the researcher says the team needs to get a better handle on what specifically lived there.

"At the moment, many of (the species) are still undescribed and new to science. So that's an exciting part of the road ahead."

With files from The Homestretch.

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