New Duckbill Dinosaur Evidence Shows That Dinosaurs Crossed Oceans
An international team of scientists claims that dinosaurs were able to migrate across oceans. This remarkable claim was based on the discovery of new duckbill dinosaur fossils unearthed in Morocco. Duckbill dinosaurs were a diverse group of herbivores that grew up to 15 meters (49 feet) long. The research could revolutionize our understanding of how dinosaurs populated the planet millions of years ago.
The new duckbill dinosaur fossils were found in a mine, near Casablanca, Morocco. They were studied by an international team of scientists from America, Spain, France and Morocco. After an examination the researchers established that the “distinctive teeth and jawbones show it belonged to Lambeosaurinae, a subfamily of duckbills with elaborate bony head crests,” according to a press release by the University of Bath, England. These dinosaurs evolved in what is now North America and spread from there to Europe, Asia and Africa.
First Duckbill Dinosaur Fossils Ever Found In Africa
This is the first time that this kind of dinosaur has been found in Africa. It was also established that the fossils were from a new type of duckbill dinosaur, which has been named Ajnabia odysseus. Compared to other duckbills, Ajnabia odysseus was very small, only 3 meters long (10 feet), and was only “as big as a pony,” reports the University of Bath.
The creature lived in the era known as the Late Cretaceous period, which was 100-66 million years ago. This was the last great dinosaur age and the final stage of the Mesozoic geological period, when birds became more common.
Silhouette showing the size of Ajnabia odysseus compared with humans and the contemporary Maastrichtian dinosaur fauna of Morocco. (Dr Nick Longrich / Science Direct)
A new species of duckbill dinosaur was the last thing experts expected to discover. The leader of the research team, Dr Nicholas Longrich of the University of Bath, stated that “It was completely out of place, like finding a kangaroo in Scotland. Africa was completely isolated by water – so how did they get there?,” according to the press release. At the time, based on our knowledge of geology, Africa was an island and no evidence of land bridges exists. So, how could these duckbills get to Africa from another continent?
So How Did Duckbill Dinosaurs Get From America To Africa?
Dr Longrich says in the report that “Sherlock Holmes said, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It was impossible to walk to Africa.
Longrich told CNN that “These dinosaurs evolved long after continental drift split the continents.” Therefore, they must have swam or drifted across hundreds of miles of ocean water. Studies of duckbills have shown that they were potentially good swimmers because of their muscular legs and large tails. It is also known that they swam in the sea because their fossils have been found in marine settings.
Therefore, the only answer is that the species crossed the seas from what is now North America to Africa. In the past, these continents were much closer than they are at present, probably only several hundred miles apart. According to the University of Bath, the remarkable feat of crossing a sea is why the African subspecies was give the name Ajnabia odysseus. Ajnabia is Arabic for foreigner, and Odysseus refers to the legendary Greek hero and mariner.
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Map showing the location of duckbill dinosaurs during the Late Cretaceous period. (Dr Nick Longrich / Science Direct)
Ocean-crossing Dinosaurs Not Entirely Surprising
There are many instances of ocean crossings by animals due to freak events such as hurricanes. Longrich said that “Once-in-a-century events are likely to happen many times.” These extraordinary events are believed to have led to the colonization of South America in the distant past by species of monkeys and rodents that originated in Africa.
The discovery of the duckbill dinosaur fossils in Morocco shows that dinosaurs travelled across seas. The researchers wrote that the findings “suggest dispersals across marine barriers, similar to those seen in Cenozoic mammals, reptiles, and amphibians,” reports Cretaceous Research. The University of Bath study provides evidence, for the first time ever, that dinosaurs migrated across oceans.
The University of Bath quotes Dr Nour-Eddine Jalil, from Sorbonne University, Paris as saying that “The succession of improbable events (crossing an ocean by a dinosaur, fossilization of a terrestrial animal in a marine environment) highlights the rarity of our find and therefore its importance.” This can help to explain how they successfully populated the entire planet.
Top image: Duckbill dinosaurs evolved in North America and then spread to South America, Asia, Europe, and, finally, Africa. Source: Raul Martin / University of Bath
By Ed Whelan