Washington, March 24 (ANI): In a new study, researchers have discovered a rare skeleton of a new species of plant-eating dinosaur in Utah's red rocks that lived 185 million years ago and may have been buried alive by a collapsing sand dune.
The discovery confirms the widespread success of sauropodomorph dinosaurs during the Early Jurassic Period.
The study was conducted by Joseph Sertich, a former University of Utah master's student and current Stony Brook University Ph.D. student, and Mark Loewen, a paleontologist at the Utah Museum of Natural History and instructor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah.
The new dinosaur species is named Seitaad ruessi, which is derived from the Navajo word, "Seit'aad," a sand-desert monster from the Navajo creation legend that swallowed its victims in sand dunes; and Ruess, after the artist, poet, naturalist and explorer Everett Ruess who mysteriously disappeared in the red rock country of southern Utah in 1934 at age 20.
Seitaad ruessi is part of a group of dinosaurs known as sauropodomorphs.
Sauropodomorphs were distributed across the globe during the Early Jurassic, when all of the continents were still together in the supercontinent named Pangaea.
Millions of years later, sauropodomorphs evolved into gigantic sauropods, long-necked plant eaters whose fossils are well known from elsewhere in Utah, including Dinosaur National Monument.
The skeleton of Seitaad was discovered protruding from the multicolored cliffs of Navajo Sandstone in 2004 by local historian and artist, Joe Pachak, while hiking in the Comb Ridge area near Bluff, Utah.
Utah Museum of Natural History paleontologists and crews excavated and collected the specimen in 2005.
The beautifully preserved specimen includes most bones of the skeleton, except for the head, and parts of the neck and tail.
Research suggests that the animal was buried in a suddenly collapsing sand dune that engulfed the remains and stood them on their head.
The missing parts of the skeleton were lost to erosion over the past thousand years, but were almost certainly visible when Native Americans lived on the cliff just above the skeleton.
In life, the animal would have stood about 3 to 4 feet (about 1 meter) tall at the hips and was 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters) long.
It would have weighed approximately 150 to 200 pounds (70 to 90 kilograms), and could walk on two or four legs.
Like its later gigantic relatives, Seitaad most likely ate plants.
Early sauropodomorphs, including Seitaad, had long necks and tails with small heads and leaf-shaped teeth, suggesting that they were specialized for an herbivorous (plant-eating) diet. (ANI)