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Tiny Texas dinosaur finally has a name nearly 35 years after discovery in treasure trove of fossils

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: April 4, 2019

About 120 million years ago, flocks of small dinosaurs bounded from plant to plant in an open floodplain southwest of what is now Fort Worth. They stood on two legs as they foraged for leaves and shoots. The smallest hatchlings were about the length of your hand, while the largest measured 9 feet from head to tail.

“They were birdlike and very agile, slender, fast-running dinosaurs,” said Kate Andrzejewski, a postdoctoral fellow at Southern Methodist University and lead author of a highly anticipated new paper in the journal PLOS ONE that describes these creatures for the first time.

The dinosaurs, which Andrzejewski and her colleagues named Convolosaurus marri, make up the largest trove of dinosaur fossils ever discovered in Texas. Convolosaurus means “flocking lizard” in Latin, and marri honors SMU alumnus and patron Ray Marr, president of Marr Oil & Gas.

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Convolosaurus marri, displayed here at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, lived about 120 million years ago.</span></p>(Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer)

Convolosaurus marri, displayed here at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, lived about 120 million years ago. (Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer)

When a college student first spotted the remains in 1985, the news made headlines around the world. Paleontologists from top institutions descended on central Texas to dig alongside experts from SMU and Tarleton State University.

“It was a great experience for a young kid in college,” said Rusty Branch, who was a sophomore geology major at Tarleton State when he came upon the remains while on an outing with friends at Proctor Lake. “I got to hang out with some of the best folks in the world and learned a huge amount.”

Branch, who now lives in Fort Worth and works for an engineering company, spent the summer of 1985 camped out by the lake with his adviser and a team of researchers. “It was just an endless thing,” he said. “The more we dug, the more bones we found.”

Some were nearly complete skeletons and belonged to animals of all ages and sizes. Between 1985 and 2017, students and staff at SMU worked to prepare the specimens, which were delicate and difficult to remove from the encasing rock.

“It was clear that this was probably a new species and that a full understanding of the skeleton in all its growth stages was what was deserved for this wonderful dinosaur,” said Louis Jacobs, professor emeritus of earth sciences at SMU and co-author of the new study. Ultimately, researchers dug up 488 bones, including the remains of at least 29 dinosaurs. READ MORE