NC Museum of Natural Sciences Discovers New 100 Million Year Old Dinosaur

A 100 million year old dinosaur has been unearthed.

A recently discovered ancestor of Thescelosaurus shows that these animals spent at least part of their time in underground burrows.

The new dinosaur, Fona [/Foat’NAH/] herzogae lived 99 million years ago in what is now Utah. At that time, the area was a large floodplain ecosystem sandwiched between the shores of a vast inland ocean to the east and active volcanoes and mountains to the west. It was a warm, wet, muddy environment with numerous rivers flowing through it.

Paleontologists from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences excavated the fossil – and other specimens of the same species – in the Mussentuchit Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation, beginning in 2013.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences told WRAL News it has the actual skeleton, a 3D-printed model of the skull, and a scientific illustration of what it would look like in its entirety.

Fona was a small, herbivorous dinosaur about the size of a large dog with a simple body plan. It lacks the bells and whistles typical of its highly ornamented relatives, such as horned dinosaurs, armored dinosaurs, and crested dinosaurs. But that doesn’t mean Fona was boring.

The generic name Fona comes from the ancestral creation story of the Chamorro people, the indigenous people of Guam and the Pacific Mariana Islands. Fona and Pontan were brother and sister explorers who discovered the island and became the land and the sky. The species name honors Lisa Herzog, the paleontology operations manager at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, for her invaluable contributions and dedication to the field of paleontology.

“I wanted to honor the indigenous mythology of Guam, where my Chamorro ancestors come from,” said Haviv Avrahami, a PhD student at NC State and a digital technician for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ new Dueling Dinosaurs Program. “In the myth, Fona became part of the land when she died, and from her body new life emerged, which to me has to do with fossilization, beauty and creation. Fona was most likely covered in a downy layer of colorful feathers. The species name is for Lisa Herzog, who was integral to all of this work and discovered one of the most exceptional Fona specimens from several individuals preserved together in what was likely a burrow.”

The researchers are convinced that Fona is crucial for increasing our knowledge of Cretaceous ecosystems.

“Fona gives us insight into the third dimension that an animal can inhabit by moving underground,” Avrahami said. “It adds to the richness of the fossil record and expands the known diversity of small herbivores, which are still poorly understood despite being incredibly integral components of Cretaceous ecosystems.”

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