This Week in History: meet Buster, a new dinosaur species for BC

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Watch Nearly 50 years ago, a geologist working on a railroad in northern BC found a mysterious claw in the rocks. Now, scientists have confirmed that his discovery is an entirely new species of dinosaur.

Buster is the nickname given to a dinosaur discovered in northern British Columbia nearly 50 years ago.

Victoria Arbour is the Curator of Palaeontology at the Royal BC Museum.

“Buster is a little plant-eating dinosaur that was found in Northern British Columbia along the Sustut River, in 1971.

“Buster isn’t a huge dinosaur” says Arbour.  “Buster is kind of like a sheep with a long tail.”

Years of research has now confirmed that Buster is a brand new dinosaur species.

“The species is called Ferrisaurus Sustutensis” says Arbour.  “It’s a little bit of a mouthful, but it means the Iron Lizard from the Sustut River, and that’s because it was found along a railway line.”

“It belongs to a group of dinosaurs called the Leptoceratopsidae, which is not exactly a household name group of dinosaurs, but they’re small, hornless relatives of Triceratops, the big horned dinosaurs, and they have a very short frill, no horns on their face, but they’ve got this deep, parrot-like beak” Arbour explains.

“We don’t have a full skeleton, but it’s actually a relatively complete dinosaur for British Columbia.  We’ve got parts of the arm and shoulder, parts of the leg, and these really cool toes that are these nice, kind of like, hoof like claws almost.  And by looking at these bones, and comparing them with other dinosaurs in other museum collections, we can figure out what kind of dinosaur it was, and whether it’s a new species or an existing species.

“We don’t know exactly what colour Buster was, but the artistic reconstruction behind me has given him kind of a mottled brown appearance – that’s because Buster’s small and probably lived in a very forested environment, and a lot of small animals today tend to be camouflaged in that way.”

Arbour and her team studied Buster extensively for many years.

“It’s very exciting.  It’s a lot of fun sitting here trying to tease out all the information we have from a couple of bones, and reveal something new about ancient British Columbia.”

And what did the research reveal?

“Buster lived about 67 million years ago, which is right at the end of the age of dinosaurs.  That’s about a million years before the big mass extinction that killed all the dinosaurs except birds.

Arbour and her colleagues published their findings this month in PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences. And the search for more British Columbia dinosaurs will continue.

“Most dinosaurs have been found, at least in Canada, in Alberta, in the Badlands, where there’s lots of big deserts, and it’s really easy to hike around and look for dinosaur fossils” Arbour explains. “In British Columbia it’s a little bit harder because we have to go up into the mountains, and we need to use helicopters, and it’s really hard to hike around in those areas, but we’ve got a couple of spots that look really promising, and that’s where I’m hoping to target over the next few years.”

Buster, the Ferrisaurus Sustutensis will be on display at the Royal BC Museum Pocket Gallery until the end of February.

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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