A new species of dinosaur has been discovered in Alaska- the Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis (oo-GROO’-nah-luk KOOK’-pik-en-sis). It is a member of the hadrosaur family of dinosaurs, that is, the duckbilled family. This 30-foot reptile lived approximately 69 million years ago. A paper describing the new dinosaur was published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.
Amazingly, they were able to survive the long, dark months of the Artic winter as well as its heavy snowfall. Although the climate was warmer when this dinosaur roamed the Earth, it would still have been difficult to survive with the harsh northern conditions.
“At the time, Alaska was actually farther north than it is today, but the global climate was much warmer,” said co-author Pat Druckenmiller of the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks. “The temperatures we can tell from plant fossils…in the Polar Regions indicate it was probably around the low 40s in Fahrenheit. I think it’s pretty safe to say they saw freezing temperatures during the winter months and, very likely, snow.”
“Because they were so close to the North Pole (roughly 80°N) they would have experienced 3-4 months of complete winter darkness. This is as far north as we believe or know dinosaurs to have ever existed.”
Back then, the land would have been covered with deciduous conifer trees- like pine trees. There would have also been a number of different ferns and small flowers growing on the forest floor. Researchers believe this giant creature ate the conifer needles.
During the harsh winter months, the Ugrunaaluk probably survived of off bark, twigs, and branches. This is just on of the many similar traits the ancient dinosaur shares with modern mice.
“Living plant-eating reptiles generally don’t chew; they simply grab vegetation, swallow, and do the rest in their gut. Duckbilled dinosaurs actually had the ability to chew and grind their food,” said Druckenmiller.
As many as 13 different types of dinosaur are thought to have lived in this area during the Cretaceous Period, including both herbivores and carnivores. Among the predators were smaller cousins of the T-rex and Velociraptor.
Researchers know all of this because over 6,000 bones were collected from the site over the last 30 years.
“What probably happened here is these animals were part of a herd that died catastrophically,” said Druckenmiller. Quite possible, a flood of snowmelt drowned the creatures.
The first fossils of this species were discovered in 1961 in Alaska. However, the bones appeared so similar to those of the Edmontosaurus, which had been unearthed in Montana and Alberta, that they were considered to be the same species.
At last, the Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis will get the individual recognition it deserves. The name means ‘ancient grazer’ in the language of the Alaskan Inupiat Eskimos.