Peter Rose, who is currently on his way to a Ph.D. in paleontology at the University of Minnesota, came upon his career the old-fashioned way; he was nuts about dinosaurs as a kid.
“I think when I was younger I was somewhat of a museum addict, science and history mostly, and I especially enjoyed the dinosaur exhibits,” he recently told me.
Unlike most of us, he never grew out of it. And today a discovery made by Rose is behind a resolution in the Texas Legislature to change its official state dinosaur.
While working on his master’s degree at Southern Methodist University, Rose was studying a collection of fossils from a place called Jones Ranch, in Hood County in central Texas. The fossils were from a sauropod, a huge plant-eater from millions of years ago that would have included the familiar dinosaur formerly known as Brontosaurus (now Apatosaurus). The bones and tracks were from the Cretaceous Period and approximately 112 million years old.
The long-accepted notion was that the large bones from four individuals found near the Paluxy River were Pleurocoelus, and by 1997 they gained the title of Texas State Dinosaur.
Oops – a new species altogether
Rose determined that the Jones fossils were not Pleurocoelus at all, and in fact did not match any known genus and species. He named his new find Paluxysaurus jonesi, after the river and the farmer, W.W. Jones.
“There was no ‘eureka moment,’ actually,” Rose said. “I always knew it was a possibility (since the fossils had never been thoroughly studied) but it took me a while to convince myself.”
Texas State Rep. Charles Geren of Fort Worth is convinced. He filed a resolution last month to change the name of the state dinosaur to Paluxysaurus jonesi from Pleurocoelus. So far it looks like the new dinosaur is unique to Texas.
A greater good
Rose, who published his findings in 2007, is a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, but he sees a greater good. “I hope it brings recognition to the paleontology program at SMU, the Forth Worth Museum and the natural history of Texas,” he said.
For the record, only Texas, Wyoming, Missouri, Maryland, Colorado, the District of Columbia and New Jersey have official dinosaurs. Minnesota has no state dinosaur, nor do we have dinosaur bones at all.
“The rocks here are not of the correct age,” Rose said.