B.C.’s first dinosaur species discovered in northern part of the province

B.C.'s first dinosaur species discovered in northern part of the province
Raven Amos
Ferrisaurus illustration.

A geologist’s discovery of a strange-looking claw in rocks almost 50 years ago has led to the recognition of the first dinosaur species unique to B.C.

The claw, which turned out to be toes, shins and shoulder bones were the subject of years of research by the Royal BC Museum’s Curator of Palaeontology, Victoria Arbour.

That research resulted in the discovery of a new species of dinosaur that roamed the province more than 67 million years ago The dinosaur has been nicknamed Buster but has now received its official classification: Ferrisaurus Sustutensis.

“[The name is] a little bit of a mouthful,” said Arbour with a smile, “But it means the Iron Lizard from the Sustut River. That’s because it was found along a railway line in 1971.”

“Buster the Ferrisaurus is a member of a group of dinosaurs called the Leptoceratopsidae. These are close cousins to dinosaurs like Triceratops, but instead of having big horns on the face and a huge frill, they had a short frill and no horns, but they had that parrot-like beak that we see in Triceratops.”

Ferrisaurus was about 1.75 metres long and likely weighed about 150 kilograms. She described the dinosaur as similar in size to a large wild boar or a bighorn sheep. Arbour said she suspects Ferrisaurus was prey for many of the large meat-eating dinosaurs, including the notorious Tyrannosaurus rex.

Arbour led an expedition in 2017 to the Sustut River site where the bones were discovered and found new fossils, including plants and part of a turtle.

Arbour said the province’s rugged terrain is a major reason why dinosaur bone discoveries, other than in northeast B.C., are rare compared with Alberta and Saskatchewan where there are large areas of flat land and exposed rocky zones.

She is planning to return to the Sustut River area in the summer to look for more dinosaur fossils.

Arbour said she originally encountered the bones in Nova Scotia as a student at Dalhousie University. She said the man who found the bones, Kenny Larsen, kept them for years but eventually donated them to the university.

Dr. Arbour in the Royal BC Museum’s paleontology collections. Photo courtesy of Brandy Yanchyk. 

The bones then made their way from Nova Scotia to the Royal B.C. Museum where Arbour was later hired as curator of paleontology and embarked on her dinosaur species discovery.

“Before it had a scientific name, and we were pretty sure it was a new species, we needed something to call it and Buster seemed to be a good fit for a couple of old bones from the Sustut River,” said Arbour.

Arbour and her colleagues published their findings on Nov. 7 in The Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences. The dinosaur bones of the Ferrisaurus Sustutensis will be on display at the Royal BC Museum Pocket Gallery until the end of February 2020.

With files from The Canadian Press

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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