Newly discovered hadrosaur dino was one serious, cold-winter survivor

The discovery of the duck-billed dinosaur Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis raises new questions about the physiology of dinosaurs and whether anyone will be able to remember how it's spelled.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
2 min read

A newly discovered species of hadrosaur may not have had any kind of cool built-in weapons like a clubbed tail or rows of razor-sharp teeth, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a serious survivor.

Scientists in Alaska discovered a new hadrosaur dubbed Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis, a name derived from the Iñupiaq language meaning "ancient grazer," that had to live in harsh conditions such as cold weather and periods of darkness that lasted for months. Researchers released the details about their newly discovered dino on Tuesday in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

This hadrosaur had a duck-billed head and hundreds of teeth used for grinding coarse vegetation. It could also grow up to 30 feet (9 meters) long and lived in herds in northern Alaska during the late Cretaceous Period approximately 69 million years ago, according to the study's abstract.

Researchers discovered this new species of hadrosaur in Alaska. Artist's rendering by James Havens

The collection of 6,000 bones that make up Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis came from the Liscomb Bone Bed, a layer littered with fossils located along the Colville River in the Prince Creek Formation near Nuiqsut, Alaska. This makes this new species and others like them "the northern-most dinosaurs to have lived during the Age of Dinosaurs," Pat Druckenmiller, the curator of earth sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said in a statement.

This hadrosaur species lived in a polar forest with lower temperatures and months of darkness and snow and is one of three documented dinosaurs discovered in the region. Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis is the only one of the three to be fully reconstructed from fossil remains.

Gregory Erickson, a professor of anatomy and vertebrae paleobiology at Florida State University in Tallahassee who also studied this new hadrosaur species, says the location of these fossils raises some interesting questions about the biological structure of dinosaurs and their ability to live in lower temperatures.

"The finding of dinosaurs this far north challenges everything we thought about a dinosaur's physiology," Erickson said in the statement. "It creates this natural question. How did they survive up here?"

These findings also support another study that examined the migratory patterns of dinosaurs found in colder parts of the planet. A study published in 2008 in the paleontology journal Alcheringa also suggests that polar dinosaurs such as the hadrosaurus didn't migrate to warmer climates and preferred to either migrate a short distance or just stay put during the winter season.

Some of these species that stayed behind were "more predisposed to overwintering based on their physical ability" and employed certain strategies to endure the winter such as "low-nutrient subsistence" and other "alternative means," according to the 2008 study's abstract.

So these dinosaurs basically use the same strategy that I use when Old Man Winter rears his wrinkly, ugly face. If it's cold outside, I just sit at home in my robe and Guinness pajama pants and refuse to go anywhere...unless my pajama pants need to go to the dry cleaners.