Dinosaur Name:   Proctor Lake ornithopods
Pronunciation:   or-NITH-o-pods
Name Meaning:   No official name yet
When it Lived:   115 million years ago, Early Cretaceous Period
Location of Dig:  
Twin Mountains Formation at Proctor Lake in Comanche County

   Rusty Branch was a college student prowling about Proctor Lake with other things on his mind when he made one of the most important finds in Texas dinosaur history.

   The year was 1985, and the place: Comanche County, Texas. Rusty was digging around on a stretch of red sedimentary rocks when he began to uncover not just a few teeth, but also cream-colored bones… lots of them! The more he dug, the more he found. Now, Rusty was a paleontology major at Tarleton State University, but he was experiencing dinosaurs like never before.

   The college student was anxious to tell university faculty what he had discovered, in particular, Phillip Murry, his professor and a renowned paleontologist. Murry then contacted Louis Jacobs, Ph.D., a friend, colleague, and internationally known vertebrate paleontologist from Southern Methodist University. Before long, Tarleton State formed a partnership with SMU’s Shuler Museum of Paleontology to excavate the site.

   The dig site was a stretch of red sedimentary rocks extending for a half mile by Proctor Lake. The rocks were formed by mud deposited on ancient floodplains along rivers flowing toward the sea. Within the stretch, more than 60 concentrations of dinosaur bones were excavated from a band of six-foot thick strata.

   By the time the dig was complete, the team had uncovered what amounted to a dinosaur daycare center. With the exception of a few adult specimens, the skeletons were small and belonged to young dinosaurs. What would cause the death of so many young in such a small area? One theory is that the group died in a drought. This is supported by the bleached and cracked condition of the bones. The small number of adults suggests that these dinosaurs parented in much the same way that ostriches do today – a few adults look after a large group of young. Since no eggs or eggshell fragments were found in the dig, it is unlikely that this was a nesting site.

   Besides these dinosaur remains, the team also found bones belonging to a small crocodile and a tooth from a meat-eating theropod dinosaurs, perhaps a raptor. It’s quite possible that these creatures were preying on the young.

   The findings from the dig were taken to the Shuler Museum of Paleontology lab. The facilities there include laboratories for fossil preparation, molding and casting, pollen extraction and analysis, and morphometric analysis.

   The study of these small, plant-eating ornithopods is approaching completion. Paleontologists at SMU believe this to be the fifth new species of dinosaurs excavated in Texas over the past decade. While the species paper was recently submitted, this dinosaur awaits its name.

   Although the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History was not involved in this dig, news of it wasn’t going unnoticed. Jim Diffily, the Museum’s curator, read about the excavation with great interest when it first hit the newspapers in the mid-80s. In fact, that is how Jim learned about Dr. Jacobs and his work in paleontology. So in 1988 when Jim needed help on the Doss Ranch dig, he knew exactly who to call.

   The Museum invites the public to come see a full skeleton of the Proctor Lake ornithopod at its Lone Star Dinosaur exhibit.

Photo Album:
View photos of the Proctor Lake excavation at a larger scale.


 


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