Bones found almost 50 years ago recognized as B.C.'s first dinosaur species

By The Canadian Press
November 7, 2019 - 7:46pm

VICTORIA — A geologist's discovery of a mysterious claw in rocks along a rail line in British Columbia's northern wilderness almost 50 years ago has led to the recognition of the first dinosaur species unique to the province.

Nicknamed Buster, the partial bones, which included toes, shins and shoulder bones, formed the evidence to officially designate a new dinosaur species that roamed the province more than 67 million years ago, says Victoria Arbour, the Royal B.C. Museum's curator of paleontology.

The dinosaur's species name, Ferrisaurus sustutensis, means the iron lizard from the Sustut River, Arbour said. It was discovered on a rail line along the Sustut River north of Smithers.

"I think it's really exciting that Ferrisaurus is a new species from B.C. because B.C. isn't a place that is really well-known for dinosaur fossils," she said. "It really highlights there's a lot of potential for even more dinosaur discoveries down the road if we look hard enough."

Arbour said she and colleagues spent years examining the bones before publishing their finding on Thursday in The Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.

"We don't have any parts of the skull but we know, based on the bones we do have, that it was part of the same group of dinosaurs called the leptoceratopsids," she said in an interview at the museum where the new dinosaur discovery is part of a free public display called B.C.'s Mountain Dinosaur.

"They are little cousins of the more famous dinosaurs like Triceratops," said Arbour. "They had a parrot-like beak, a very short frill and no horns on the face. They were plant eaters and probably walked on four legs but might have been able to get around on two legs sometimes."

Ferrisaurus was about 1.75 metres long and likely weighed about 150 kilograms. She described the dinosaur as similar in size to a large wild boar or a bighorn sheep. Arbour said she suspects Ferrisaurus was prey for many of the large meat-eating dinosaurs, including the notorious Tyrannosaurus rex. 

Arbour led an expedition in 2017 to the Sustut River site where the bones were discovered and found new fossils, including plants and part of a turtle.

Arbour said the province's rugged terrain is a major reason why dinosaur bone discoveries, other than in northeast B.C., are rare compared with Alberta and Saskatchewan where there are large areas of flat land and exposed rocky zones.

She is planning to return to the Sustut River area in the summer to look for more dinosaur fossils.

Arbour said she originally encountered the bones in Nova Scotia as a student at Dalhousie University. She said the man who found the bones, Kenny Larsen, kept them for years but eventually donated them to the university.

The bones then made their way from Nova Scotia to the Royal B.C. Museum where Arbour was later hired as curator of paleontology and embarked on her dinosaur species discovery.

"Before it had a scientific name, and we were pretty sure it was a new species, we needed something to call it and Buster seemed to be a good fit for a couple of old bones from the Sustut River," said Arbour.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2019.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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