For many, Big Bend National Park would not be the first place you would associate with fossilized dinosaur remains. However, the park located in south Texas continues to surprise researchers with the fossils that turn up.
Earlier this month researchers with the National Park Service and Texas Tech University announced the discovery of a new species of horned dinosaur. The first inklings of a new fossil actually appeared two years ago after several months of fieldwork in the park. Two researchers, Steven L. Wick and Thomas M. Lehman, were able to recover portions of the fossilized animal's giant skull following several months of fieldwork.
They named their new dinosaur, Bravoceratops polyphemus, after the Rio Bravo del Norte (the Rio Grande River) that forms the boundary between Big Bend National Park and northern Mexico.
The horned dinosaur is thought to be one of the largest members of a group of horned dinosaurs known as "chasmosaurines" that lived during the late Cretaceous Period some 65 million to 75 million years ago. The researchers say that during its life, the dinosaur developed a skull roughly 7 feet in length that was topped by two 3-foot-long horns over its eyebrows. In appearance, the dinosaur was very similar in size to its better-known relative, Triceratops, which weighed an estimated 7 1/2 tons.
Exciting in its own right, the discovery should help draw attention to the Fossil Discovery Trail being developed by Friends of Big Bend National Park. The friends group is working to raise more than $1 million to fund the project, which would include new exhibit space, an interpretive trail, and improved picnic and parking areas at the national park's existing Fossil Bone Exhibit Site.
According to the friends group, Big Bend has given rise to more than 35 Cretaceous dinosaur species, more than any other national park in the country. Additionally, more than 1,100 fossilized remains of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrate species have been found in the park, which is one of the few areas in the world spanned by the so-called K/T boundary, a geologic formation that marks the dividing age of dinosaurs and modern mammals, the friends group notes.
Park officials currently are developing a new fossil bone exhibit and are working with Friends of Big Bend national Park on the possibility of an exhibit that would showcase a full-size replica of this new dinosaur skull.