RICHARDSON, Texas (July 7, 2004) – Bone fragments from a flying reptile the size of a fighter plane, a “kill zone” with the remains of dismembered dinosaurs and fossilized dinosaur excrement a foot or more long were among the finds made this summer in and around Big Bend National Park by faculty and students from The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), accompanied by local science teachers.
And if that weren’t enough, the intrepid researchers will be heading back to West Texas later this month to seek out more discoveries.
Numerous pieces of bone, found last month in Big Bend National Park, are thought to belong to Quetzalcoatlus – an enormous pterosaur with a wingspan of nearly 50 feet that is believed to be the largest flying creature of all time, according to Dr. Homer Montgomery, a paleontologist and assistant professor of science education at UTD who led the field trip.
Undergraduate students in Montgomery’s popular “Age of Dinosaurs” class and science teachers enrolled in graduate courses at the university made the find in an area of the park where an earlier Montgomery-led trip had previously discovered a femur from the same type of creature.
“This latest discovery adds another piece to the expanding mosaic of information researchers are compiling on this fascinating creature, which was thought to soar over what is now West Texas during the late Cretaceous period some 67 million to 65 million years ago,” Montgomery said.
West of the national park, near the town of Terlingua, the UTD group linked up with teachers from Abilene to help excavate what Montgomery described as a kill zone – an area where at least one predator apparently dismembered and consumed various prey.
“It looks to me to be the dinosaur equivalent of the bin behind the butcher shop – or perhaps behind Hannibal Lecter’s house,” Montgomery said. “A few meters away is a well-preserved hadrosaur, a duck-billed dinosaur, whose ankle bone has deep grooves in it clearly produced by the teeth of a predator.”
Montgomery said that the site will be excavated and studied for at least a few years and that UTD students would help conduct a “thorough paleoecological analysis” of the area.
Nearby, the area is littered with fossilized dinosaur excrement called coprolites. Montgomery describes them as “discrete lumps, light brownish in color, and of various shapes.” Many are more than a foot in length.
“The coprolites are possibly from predatory dinosaurs, perhaps associated with the kill zone,” he explained. “We will gather several samples this summer for thin-section analysis to determine what sort of inclusions are present and, thus, be more confident in identifying their source.”
Montgomery plans to return to the two sites in late July and early August with another group of UTD students.
Montgomery has led numerous field trips to the Big Bend area in search of fossils. In 2001, he headed a team of students and other experts from UTD and the Dallas Museum of Natural History to the region to excavate the neck of one of the largest dinosaurs ever found in Texas.
That fossil was so large – each vertebra weighing up to 1,000 pounds – that it had to be airlifted by helicopter from the remote desert excavation site in Big Bend National Park.
In addition to dinosaurs, Montgomery teaches courses at UTD on marine science and evolution. He conducts field trips to sites in Texas, in other states and in other countries in support of these and other courses.
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 13,700 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.