A new 30-foot-long dinosaur has just been discovered in Alaska, according to a team of researchers who believe the dino once stomped through snow and endured months of winter darkness.
The duck-billed plant eater, named Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis meaning "ancient grazer of the Colville River," is the northernmost dinosaur known to have ever lived, Florida State University professor of biological science Greg Erickson and his colleagues say.
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Colville River refers to the place where the dino remains, dated to 69 million years ago, were found. The site, the Prince Creek Formation, is in northern Alaska.
"The finding of dinosaurs this far north challenges everything we thought about a dinosaur's physiology," Erickson said in a press release. "It creates this natural question. How did they survive up here?"
Not very well, at least for a herd of U. kukkpikensis juveniles whose remains - along with those of older individuals - were found by the paleontologists. Measuring about 9 feet tall, the young dinosaurs in the herd suddenly died at once, the researchers believe, although the cause of death remains a mystery for now.
Despite this tragedy, it appears that multiple animals lived in the region at the time. They included this new species of dinosaur, plus at least 12 other dino species, based on teeth and other remains. Birds, small mammals and some fish rounded out the diverse ecosystem.
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Earth's climate was much warmer then, on average, and what is now Arctic Alaska was covered in trees. Still, because the area was so far north, the scientists believe that the dinosaurs likely contended with months of winter darkness. Temperatures averaged about 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and the dinosaurs probably experienced snow.
"What we're finding is basically this lost world of dinosaurs with many new forms completely new to science," Erickson, who is originally from Alaska, said.
He added, "It's virtually unexplored in terms of vertebrate paleontology. So, we think we're going to find a lot of new species."
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The new dino was most closely related to Edmontosaurus, another type of duck-billed dinosaur that lived roughly 70 million years ago in Alberta, Montana and South Dakota.
Visitors to the University of Alaska Museum of the North will be able to view three near-complete skeletons of Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis, which will go on display there soon.