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Cretaceous Kings: 7 dinosaurs from Alberta

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, July 7, 2013, 8:09 PM -

The province of Alberta has long been famous for being a hot spot for dinosaur fossils. The ancient lumbering beasts would have paid no attention to the 49th parallel, wandering across North America wherever prey and foraging would have taken then, but there are several whose first fossils were discovered right here in Canada, from the cute to the terrifying. Here's seven dinosaurs that once called Canada home.

7. Styracosaurus

You know this guy:

Source: Wikidino.com

Source: Wikidino.com

Outside of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops is probably one of the best-known dinos, with that huge crest and spikes.

So what we imagined happened was, Evolution took a good, long, hard look at this latest creation, possibly stroking its chin in concentration, before snapping its fingers and saying “You know what this needs? MORE HUGE SPIKES.”

And so:

Wikimedia commons

Wikimedia commons

Styracosaurus fossils were first unearthed in 1913, a few decades after the discovery of Triceratops. When the full skeleton was reconstructed, spikes and all, we imagine more than a few paleontologists must have been privately asking themselves if someone was fooling with them or something.

Like its cousin Triceratops, it was a herbivore, and a prime target for the larger predators of the Cretaceous age. That magnificent spiked frill looks ominous, but scientists over the last century aren’t 100 per cent sure what it was used for, putting forward theories about its use in combat (likely not), to body-heat cooling to mating displays.

No word on whether an alternative scientific theory (“because spikes are AWESOME!”) has completed peer review yet.

6. Edmontonia

For anyone who fancies Canada could be improved with the addition of a few good tank brigades, not to worry -- Prehistory has you covered:

Wikimedia commons

Wikimedia commons

Meet Edmontonia (not named after the Albertan capital, but rather for the Edmonton Formation in dinosaur hotspot Horseshoe Canyon).

Spikes notwithstanding, it wasn’t an offensive weapon. The distinctive armour plating was primarily for defense against larger predators. Edmontonia itself ate plants, for the most part.

Also, about the tank thing: Edmontonia measured around 22 feet long which, incidentally, is almost exactly the standard length of the hull of an M60 tank. 

No real significance whatsoever, but we like the idea that the wilds of Canada were once roamed by a plodding lizard that was the size of an actual tank.

5. Edmontosaurus

Switching gears completely, this Canadian giant is one of the largest duck-billed dinosaur species yet discovered:

Nobu Tamora, Illustration based on Edmontosaurus' skeletal reconstruction by Greg Paul.

Nobu Tamora, Illustration based on Edmontosaurus' skeletal reconstruction by Greg Paul.

Edmontosaurus, also first discovered in Horseshoe Canyon isn’t the most well-known or popular dinosaur (basically, if it wasn’t in “Jurassic Park,” it’s probably doomed to obscurity), but because tons of specimens have been found, it’s actually taught us more about the extinct giant lizards than most other species.

For one thing, its one of the few dinosaurs to actually have parts of its skin preserved due to natural mummification after death in a dry stream bed, discovered as early as 1909 (it was scaly).

Second, one partially mummified specimen actually seemed to have plant remains in the stomach, giving scientists an idea of what they might have eaten, although it’s possible they may have just been washed into the carcass after death (Testing your theory must be super hard when you’re separated from your specimen of choice by millions upon millions of years).

We haven’t been able to find any peer-reviewed academic papers on whether Edmontosaurus was the dopiest-looking dinosaur, or just in the top-five, but we have to imagine there must be one or two somewhere.

4. Acrotholus

As if we needed another reason to wish “Jurassic Park” was a real thing, see the guy below?

Image: Julius Csotonyi

Image: Julius Csotonyi

You can’t tell from the nifty artists’ depiction, but: It’s the size of a dog. It’s the size of fido. It’s small enough for you to drool over from the other side of the petstore glass.

Discovered in (where else) southern Alberta quite recently, the first paper on the beastie was only published this year.

It’s part of the same family as Pachycephalosaurus, and has skull-bones around 10 cm thick. That dome-head is believed to have been used for head-butting combat with dinosaurs, whether predators or each other.

The University of Toronto researchers who discovered Acrotholus say it fills in a lot of gaps in the study of that species. 

Which is nice, but we’re mostly imagining two of these puppy-sized lads head-butting each other in the living room, with your mom yelling at them from the kitchen to either knock it off or take it outside.

3. Albertadromeus

So far on this list, we’ve seen dinosaurs equipped to bravely handle predators by goring them with an impressively huge collection of head spikes.

We’ve also seen some that bravely defended against those who would prey upon them by using their tank-like armour plating.

And now, as of this year, we have Albertadromeus: 

Image: Julius Csotony

Image: Julius Csotony

A small dinosaur conditioned by evolution to vanquish predators by bravely running away from them. Heck, its name even means “Alberta Runner.”

The researchers who described it this year suggest it may be the smallest plant-eating dinosaur found in Canada (Alberta, of course. Like you had to ask). Its fused foot-bones suggest its athletic forte was sprinting.

Finding any small dinos at all is considered a big deal, because their bones are so small and brittle they don’t usually make it to the fossilization process.

Every entry on this list makes us wish “Jurassic Park” cloning was real, and Albertadromeus gives us a couple ideas for a certain awesome racing event at a dino-ed up Calgary Stampede.

Don’t tell us you’re not imagining it too.

2. Parasaurolophus

We know it’s mean, but we can’t help but feel a little sorry for Parasaurolophus:

Wikimedia Commons/Steveoc 86

Wikimedia Commons/Steveoc 86

It’s the head-thing. The species averaged about 10 metres from snout to tail, but its brute size and probably sensitive and tender nature are forgotten in the midst of the enormous bone crest thingy sticking out the back of its head.

Scientists have been arguing about its actual function for decades. One discredited and hilarious theory argued it was like a snorkel for when the beastie would hide underwater (they, um, probably didn’t do that).

Nowadays, the leading theories are that it served some kind of purpose as a social marker, may have helped produce specialized sounds for communication, or even helped keep the head cool by channeling heat away.

Whatever it’s used for, we can’t help but imagine the kind of locker-room mockery Parasaurolophus would have had to have put up with from the cooler dinos, like Triceratops, Velociraptor or…..

1. Albertosaurus

It seems like Alberta has an awful lot going for it: Boundless Prairies, majestic mountain peaks, fine cities and, oh yes, a dinosaur named after it that looks like Tyrannosaurus Rex:

D'Arcy Norman/Royal Tyrell Museum

D'Arcy Norman/Royal Tyrell Museum

Now, it’s not Tyrannosaurus. It’s smaller, for a start, only nine metres long from tail to terrifying snout, and only weighs in at a paltry couple of tonnes. But when you’re judging carnivorous dinosaurs according to how likely they would be to chase you down and devour you, we think it’s good enough.

We actually know more about Albertosaurus that we do most other dinosaur species, thanks to a discovery of hundreds of fossils in 1910 along the Red Deer River, up to a couple dozen individuals ranging from juvenile to mature.

Finding so many of them in one place, apparently all from the same time period or so, led at least one researcher to hyphothesize that Albertosaurus may have lived and hunted in packs.

Before you start imagining being chased through the splendid wilds of Alberta by not one, but a bunch of these things (as we most certainly do), it may not be as bad (or as cool) as that. 

Other paleontologists say they might have been driven together by rising floodwaters or drought, cannibalistic tendencies, or even just to fight over the remains of a kill.

However they lived, Albertosaurus’ main claim to fame has been being named after a province, and perhaps giving teeth to The Weather Network's “Canadian Content” regulations.

Think we missed a couple cool dinos? Let us know in the comments!

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