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Newfound dino had huge nose, but why?

This dinosaur probably didn’t have a keen sense of smell. Its big nose might have been used to attract mates, smash plants or recognize others of its species.

Image credit: North Carolina Sate University

Image credit: North Carolina Sate University

Paleontologists have named a newly-discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile Rhinorex condrupus. Rhinorex, which translates roughly into King Nose, was a plant-eater that lived in what is now Utah approximately 75 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period.

Hadrosaurs are usually identified by bony crests that extended from the skull. Rhinorex lacks a crest on the top of its head; instead, this new dinosaur has a huge nose.

Researchers came across the fossil in storage at Brigham Young University. First excavated in the 1990s from Utah’s Neslen formation, Rhinorex had been studied primarily for its well-preserved skin impressions. When the researchers reconstructed the skull, they realized that they had a new species.

Terry Gates is a joint postdoctoral researcher with North Caroline State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Gates said:

We had almost the entire skull, which was wonderful. But the preparation was very difficult. It took two years to dig the fossil out of the sandstone it was embedded in – it was like digging a dinosaur skull out of a concrete driveway.

Based on the recovered bones, Gates estimates that Rhinorex was about 30 feet long and weighed over 8,500 lbs. It lived in a swampy estuarial environment, about 50 miles from the coast. When asked how Rhinorex may have benefitted from a large nose Gates said:

The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery. If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell; but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, recognizing members of its species, or even as a large attachment for a plant-smashing beak. We are already sniffing out answers to these questions.

The researchers’ results appear in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Read more from North Carolina State University

Eleanor Imster

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