The science community is beginning to understand more about one of South Dakota's oldest residents. Local research into the life of a creature long ignored by paleontologists is giving scientists more insight into the final days of the dinosaurs.
SDSMT paleontologist Dr. Clint Boyd says, "Part of the reason it's so neglected is because it's not one of the big impressive dinosaurs that people are used to talking about."
In the field of paleontology, Thesclelosauras neglectus has taken a backseat to bigger and toothier dinos like T-rex and Triceratops. That's why its name aptly translates to 'the marvelous neglected lizard.'
Dr. Boyd says, "When it was first discovered in 1891, it was collected and brought back to the Smithsonian and then left to sit for over 20 years before they even opened up the jacket and realized they had something completely new to science."
Dr. Boyd's research into the neglected dinosaur came to a front in his doctoral dissertation nearly ten years ago.
Now, he says recently discovered Thesclelosauras skull fossils have the potential to unlock clues to a very hazy part of the prehistoric family tree.
Dr. Boyd says, "This animal also comes from a very particular spot on the dinosaur evolutionary tree which is one of the places that we're having the most trouble figuring out what the exact relationships are. So, learning more about this animal fills in a lot of those gaps and tells us not just about what this animal was doing, but the evolution of the entire group of dinosaurs."
Scientists are still working to figure out just how Thesclelosauras lived its life. What we do know it that it was one of the final dinosaurs to walk lands of cretaceous South Dakota.
And that means the once neglected lizard could hold the key to better understanding the final days before mass extinction.
Dr. Boyd says, "These are from the Hell Creek period at the end of the cretaceous and right after this is when all of the non-bird dinosaurs go extinct. So, knowing something about the diversity of these animals at that time, and also knowing the type of habitat they were living in and what kind of diet they had, tells us a lot about what was changing at that time."
Dr. Boyd says, now that scientists have the fossils to recreate its anatomy, they now have the stepping stones to better understand the life and times of a dinosaur neglected no more.