T-rex may have hunted in packs like wolves, new research shows

Science

FOX 31 Denver 19 April, 2021 - 01:17pm 18 views

BLM photo courtesy of Dr. Alan Titus.

KANAB, Utah (KDVR) — New research released Monday from the Bureau of Land Management in Utah indicates that tyrannosaur dinosaurs may not have been solitary predators, like in the movies, but social carnivores, similar to wolves.

The research is based on a fossil site inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument called the “Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry“.

The research findings were put together by a team from BLM, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, University of Arkansas, Colby College of Maine, and James Cook University in Australia.

The Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry site was discovered in 2014 by BLM Paleontologist Dr. Alan Titus. The BLM said it is the first tyrannosaur mass death site found in the southern United States. 

Dr. Titus said the research team found that the tyrannosaurs died together during a seasonal flooding event that washed their carcasses into a lake, where they sat, largely undisturbed until the river later churned its way through the bone bed.  

“We used a truly multi-disciplinary approach (physical and chemical evidence) to piece the history of the site together, with the end-result being that the tyrannosaurs died together during a seasonal flooding event,” said Dr. Celina Suarez of the University of Arkansas. 

BLM said that in addition to tyrannosaurs, seven species of turtles, multiple fish and ray species, two other kinds of dinosaurs, and a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile (12-foot-long) alligator have all been discovered on the site.

“The new Utah site adds to the growing body of evidence showing that tyrannosaurs were complex, large predators capable of social behaviors common in many of their living relatives, the birds,” said project contributor, Dr. Joe Sertich, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “This discovery should be the tipping point for reconsidering how these top carnivores behaved and hunted across the northern hemisphere during the Cretaceous.” 

Research will continue at the Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry for the foreseeable future, according to the BLM.

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Fossils found in Utah indicate tyrannosaurs were social predators, not solitary

fox13now.com 31 December, 1969 - 06:00pm

KANAB, Utah — New research from paleontologists in Utah found evidence that tyrannosaurs may have been social — hunting in packs like wolves — rather than solitary as previously believed.

In 2014, Dr. Alan Titus of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) discovered what was later named the "Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry" site in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Scientists discovered a "tyrannosaur mass death site" there — the first of its kind to be found in the southern United States, according to a press release from the BLM.

“We realized right away this site could potentially be used to test the social tyrannosaur idea," said Titus, a paleontologist with the BLM Utah Paria River District. "Unfortunately, the site’s ancient history is complicated."

Titus explains that the bones found at the site appeared to have been exhumed and reburied by river activity, so the way in which they were found was not how they were originally buried.

However, further research concluded that the group of Teratophoneus died together in a seasonal flood. Their carcasses were washed into into a lake, where they sat "largely undisturbed" until the river stirred them up.

“Traditional excavation techniques, supplemented by the analysis of rare earth elements, stable isotopes and charcoal concentrations convincingly show a synchronous death event at the Rainbows site," world-renowned tyrannosaur expert Dr. Philip Currie said.

Currie first hypothesized more than 20 years ago that tyrannosaurs were social and had complex hunting strategies. His ideas were based on findings from a site in Alberta, Canada where at least 12 tyrannosaurs were found.

"Localities [like Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry] that produce insights into the possible behavior of extinct animals are especially rare and difficult to interpret,” he added.

Still, Currie and other experts are confident that these four or five tyrannosaurs were together when they died.

"Undoubtedly, this group died together, which adds to a growing body of evidence that tyrannosaurids were capable of interacting as gregarious packs," he said.

Titus added: "I consider this sort of a once-in-a-lifetime discovery... I probably won't find another site this exciting and scientifically significant during my career."

The research findings were published Monday and can be read in full on PeerJ, an open-access scientific journal.

Was T. rex lone wolf or social eater? New research at dig site offers surprising answer

Deseret News 19 April, 2021 - 08:17pm

Rainbows & Unicorns site in southern Utah reveals sophisticated family units

Researchers discovered a pile of dinosaurs at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — a family of the giant Tyrannosaurus rex — that leads them to conclude they all died at the same time in the same flood event and were hanging out together in a “gregarious” social unit.

The Rainbows & Unicorns Quarry at the southern Utah site is groundbreaking because the mainstream narrative around these dinosaurs that roamed the Earth 76.4 million years ago is that they were solitary prey animals that lacked the sophistication to carry out a coordinated attack to deliver their next meal.

“That takes a fair amount of brain power,” according to Alan Titus, the Bureau of Land Management’s Paria River District paleontologist.

Titus said the finding is “somewhat controversial” because the 2014 find illustrates the giant dinosaurs traveled together and likely teamed up in kills — like prides of lions or wolf packs do today. Paleontological researchers have been mostly dismissive of the notion the giant meat-eating dinosaurs were capable of such social action.

In this find, scientists unearthed a family of four, possibly five individuals of the T. rex, including a young juvenile about 4 years old and a fully developed adult in its mid-20s.

The site was peeled back using an array of scientific techniques that reveal this is the first tyrannosaur mass death site found in the southern United States. Using a battery of tests and analyses on the vestiges of the original site, researchers found the dinosaurs perished in a single flood event, were buried in fine mud, unearthed and reburied in a sandbar.

“And there it is, a very sad day in southern Utah 76 million years ago,” Titus said.

The specimens unearthed from the unique fossil bone site exceeded the expectations raised even by its lofty nickname.

Titus said the name derived from teasing from former colleagues who rib him about his perpetual excitement over any new find.

“It is always about rainbows and unicorns with me all the time,” he said, but emphasized he told his colleagues that no, this really was a rainbows and unicorns find.

Researchers remain enthusiastic that the quarry will reveal additional answers the more they dig into it.

“The new Utah site adds to the growing body of evidence showing that tyrannosaurs were complex, large predators capable of social behaviors common in many of their living relatives, the birds,” said project contributor Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. “This discovery should be the tipping point for reconsidering how these top carnivores behaved and hunted across the Northern Hemisphere during the Cretaceous.”

Titus explained the large predators typically don’t team up in the quest for food — they are competing against each other after all.

But as in the case of lions and wolves, which have complex and sophisticated social roles, Titus said a modern-day second cousin of the dinosaur — the Harris’s hawk — is the only known raptor to hunt cooperatively and participate in communal raising of their young.

The idea that tyrannosaurs were social with complex hunting strategies was first formulated by Currie over 20 years ago.

Utah Dinosaur Graveyard Indicates T-Rex Was Social Predator

ksltv.com 19 April, 2021 - 06:39pm

The study, released Monday, came from years of work at a fossil site inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah.

BLM Palentologgist Dr. Alan Titus discovered the Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry site in 2014.

“We realized right away this site could potentially be used to test the social tyrannosaur idea. Unfortunately, the site’s ancient history is complicated,” Titus said. “With bones appearing to have been exhumed and reburied by the action of a river, the original context with which they lay has been destroyed. However, all has not been lost.”

“The new Utah site adds to the growing body of evidence showing that tyrannosaurs were complex, large predators capable of social behaviors common in many of their living relatives, the birds,” said Dr. Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. “This discovery should be the tipping point for reconsidering how these top carnivores behaved and hunted across the northern hemisphere during the Cretaceous.”

Researchers believe the Tyrannosaurs died during a flood that washed their remains into a lake.

Aside from the 12 Tyrannosaurs, the crew found fossils from other dinosaurs, turtles, and a 12-foot-long Deinosuchus alligator.

The Bureau of Land Management is proud to announce new ground-breaking research regarding the social behavior of Tyrannosaurs! To find out more visit https://t.co/iWPtLzZvwe. pic.twitter.com/wq82eYRruo

— Bureau of Land Management Utah (@BLMUtah) April 19, 2021

Titus called it, “an especially important site that we found in 2014. A one of a kind, the first of its kind from the southern U.S.”

The fossils dated back 76.4 million years.

The news release said researchers will be at the site for years to come.

Tyrannosaurs may have hunted in packs like wolves, new research has found

The Guardian 19 April, 2021 - 05:45pm

Paleontologists developed the theory while studying a mass tyrannosaur death site found seven years ago in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, one of two monuments that the Biden administration is considering restoring to their full size after former president Donald Trump shrank them.

Using geochemical analysis of the bones and rock, a team of researchers from the University of Arkansas determined that the dinosaurs died and were buried in the same place and were not the result of fossils washing in from multiple areas.

Kristi Curry Rogers, a biology professor at Macalester College, said this research is a “good start” but more evidence would be needed before determining that the tyrannosaurs were living in a social group.

In 2014, Bureau of Land Management palaeontologist Alan Titus discovered the site, which was later named the Rainbows and Unicorns quarry because of the vast array of fossils contained inside. Excavation has been ongoing since the site’s discovery because of the size of the area and volume of bones.

“I consider this a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for myself,” Titus told reporters during a virtual news conference. “I probably won’t find another site this exciting and scientifically significant during my career.”

The new Utah site is the third mass tyrannosaur grave site that’s been discovered in North America and provides even more evidence that tyrannosaurs may have lived in groups, Titus said.

“Going that next step to understand behaviour and how animals behave requires really amazing evidence,” Joseph Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, said at the news conference. “I think that this site, the spectacular collection of tyrannosaurs but also the other assembled pieces of evidence … pushes us to the point where we can show some evidence for behaviour.”

In addition to the tyrannosaurs, researchers have also found seven species of turtles, multiple fish and ray species, two other kinds of dinosaurs and a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile Deinosuchus alligator. These other animals do not appear to have all died together.

Palaeontology groups have been among those pushing the federal government to restore the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante to their original sizes to protect the region’s rich paleontological and archaeological record.

Interior secretary Deb Haaland visited southern Utah earlier this month as she prepared to submit recommendations on whether to reverse Trump’s decision to downsize the monuments. Titus said he showed Haaland some of the fossils at his lab during her visit and said she “appreciated getting to see the material.”

“The (Bureau of Land Management) is protecting these fossils as national treasures,” Titus said. “They’re part of the story of how North America came to be and how ultimately we came to be.”

Mass fossil site may prove tyrannosaurs lived in packs

Yahoo News 19 April, 2021 - 04:43pm

Paleontologists developed the theory while studying a mass tyrannosaur death site found seven years ago in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, one of two monuments that the Biden administration is considering restoring to their full size after former President Donald Trump shrunk them.

Using geochemical analysis of the bones and rock, a team of researchers with the University of Arkansas determined that the dinosaurs died and were buried in the same place and were not the result of fossils washing in from multiple areas.

The new Utah site is the third mass tyrannosaur grave site that’s been discovered in North America — bolstering a theory first developed 20 years ago that they lived in packs. However, more research needs to be done to make that argument, said Kristi Curry Rogers, a biology professor at Macalester College who wasn’t involved in the research but reviewed the finding Monday.

“It is a little tougher to be so sure that these data mean that these tyrannosaurs lived together in the good times,” Rogers said. “It’s possible that these animals may have lived in the same vicinity as one another without traveling together in a social group, and just came together around dwindling resources as times got tougher.”

In 2014, Bureau of Land Management paleontologist Alan Titus discovered the site, which was later named the Rainbows and Unicorns quarry because of the vast array of fossils contained inside. Excavation has been ongoing since the site's discovery because of the size of the area and volume of bones.

“I consider this a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for myself,” Titus told reporters during a virtual news conference. “I probably won’t find another site this exciting and scientifically significant during my career.”

The social tyrannosaurs theory began over 20 years ago when more than a dozen tyrannosaurs were found at a site in Alberta, Canada. Another mass death site in Montana again raised the possibility of social tyrannosaurs. Many scientists questioned the theory, arguing that the dinosaurs didn't have the brainpower to engage in sophisticated social interaction, Titus said.

“Going that next step to understand behavior and how animals behave requires really amazing evidence,” Joseph Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, said at the news conference. “I think that this site, the spectacular collection of tyrannosaurs but also the other assembled pieces of evidence ... pushes us to the point where we can show some evidence for behavior.”

In addition to the tyrannosaurs, researchers have also found seven species of turtles, multiple fish and ray species, two other kinds of dinosaurs and a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile Deinosuchus alligator. These other animals do not appear to have all died together.

Paleontology groups have been among those pushing the federal government to restore the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante to their original sizes to protect the region’s rich paleontological and archaeological record.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited southern Utah earlier this month as she prepared to submit recommendations on whether to reverse Trump’s decision to downsize the monuments. Titus said he showed Haaland some of the fossils at his lab during her visit and said she “appreciated getting to see the material.”

“The (Bureau of Land Management) is protecting these fossils as national treasures.” Titus said. “They’re part of the story of how North America came to be and how ultimately we came to be.”

Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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The pack of four, possibly five, T. rexes likely died in a seasonal flood after a slow-burn fire between 66 and 100 million years ago, scientists say.

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Dino-mite Utah discovery bolsters theory that T. rexes, like lions, hunted in packs

Salt Lake Tribune 19 April, 2021 - 04:36pm

(Screenshot) Bureau of Land Management paleontologist Alan Titus displays skull bones from tyrannosaur specimens recovered in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The discovery of several tyrannosaurs that apparently died together provides compelling evidence that the fearsome predatory dinosaurs lived and hunted in groups. Monday, April 19, 2021.

Did the dinosaur age’s most fearsome predators hunt by themselves, or did tyrannosaurs live cooperatively in groups?

A surprising discovery in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument provides compelling evidence of the latter.

Scientists recovered several tyrannosaur specimens, representing animals of varying ages, that apparently died together in the Kaiparowits Plateau, suggesting complex social behavior akin to that seen today in lions and wolves, according to Alan Titus, a paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management.

“Most predators are solitary. The reason for that is you have to have a very special purpose as a predator to want to get together and cooperate with what were originally your competitors for prey,” Titus said Monday in a news conference announcing the discovery. “And that involves guaranteeing success of taking down larger animals.”

Group hunting would reflect complex behavior that requires a level of intelligence not often associated with reptiles that lived millions of years ago.

“If you’re going to actually share in a hunt and have roles in a hunt and have a hierarchical structure with an alpha who’s in charge, that takes a fair amount of brainpower,” Titus said. “So the idea that large predators like T. rex could have actually been socially complex hunters with role playing and division of the hunt, with ambushers and chasers, and then sharing in the kills is somewhat controversial because a lot of researchers feel like these animals simply didn’t have the brainpower to engage in such complex behavior.”

(Alan Titus | Bureau of Land Management) BLM paleontologist Katja Knolls, left, and volunteer Lynn Marshall prepare tyrannosaur specimens to be removed from the Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2018.

Joined by collaborators from the University of Arkansas and the Denver Museum Nature & Science, BLM scientists published the tyrannosaur findings Monday in the open-access science journal PeerJ.

“The new Utah site adds to the growing body of evidence showing that tyrannosaurs were complex, large predators capable of social behaviors common in many of their living relatives, the birds,” said contributor Joe Sertich, the Denver Museum’s curator of dinosaurs. “This discovery should be the tipping point for reconsidering how these top carnivores behaved and hunted across the Northern Hemisphere during the Cretaceous [Period].”

This research builds on a theory first developed two decades by paleontologist Philip Currie, then a curator at Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum. Digging at a site called Dry Island Buffalo Jump in Alberta, he and his team found fossils of some 12 tyrannosaurs that perished at varying stages of their lives. The evidence suggested these individuals died in a single event, offering evidence that the predator was a social animal, Titus said.

The Utah discovery dates to 2014, when Titus and two colleagues, MJ Knell and Katja Knoll, were exploring a site on the Kaiparowits for turtle fossils. Titus noticed what turned out to be a tyrannosaur ankle bone protruding from the ground. It didn’t take long before they realized they had a major find underfoot.

“Within minutes of brushing around the ankle bone, we uncovered dozens of other tyrannosaur bones, including large hind foot toes,” he said, displaying one of the fossils. “We recovered so much bone from so many different kinds of animals over such a wide area, about an acre, that we nicknamed it the Rainbows and Unicorns site. I consider this a once-in-a-lifetime sort of discovery for myself.”

The individual tyrannosaurs, members of the Teratophoneus species, ranged from very young to fully mature. They estimated the dinosaurs ages at 4, 7, 10, 15 and 22 years at the time of death.

The quarry’s seemingly silly name started as a dig at Titus’ tendency toward hyperbole when describing promising paleontological places on the Kaiparowits, which has become one of the world’s most productive locations for new dinosaur discoveries. In the case of the new tyrannosaur quarry, the site truly did live up to the hype, so the Rainbows and Unicorns name stuck.

There is nothing silly about the resources there.

“The BLM is protecting these fossils as a national treasure,” Titus said. “They are our ancient heritage and part of the story of how North America came to be and how we came to be.”

(Mark Johnston | NHMU file photo) Toe bones, the upper jaw and snout of the fossilized remains of a tyrannosaur skeleton found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2017.

In 2017, then-President Donald Trump slashed the 1.9 million-acre Staircase monument by half and broke it into three units — a move that President Joe Biden is expected to reverse. Located on the north end of the plateau a few miles east of Grosvenor Arch, the quarry is in a part of the monument unaffected by these politically wrenching decisions.

These 76-million-year-old fossils were found with bones of varying species of fish, turtle and alligators, raising yet another set of questions, Titus said. Why would a terrestrial creature like the tyrannosaur be found with the remains of so many aquatic animals?

“That becomes the first mystery we had to solve,” Titus said. The researchers ultimately concluded the tyrannosaurs died and their bones fossilized elsewhere, then were later washed away and deposited where he found them, mixed with aquatic creatures, perhaps in a river channel.

“You’ve got these sandbars and gravel bars in which all the bone is now residing, and so it’d be easy to conclude these animals just died upstream somewhere and were washed down the river during some major flood event,” Titus said. “But it got more complicated when we started to look at the details of the bones.”

Packed inside the bones were fine-grained muds and calcium carbonate, material that was of a different nature than the coarse sands they were found in. Geochemical analysis of the fossils and their embedded sediments helped prove the dinosaurs roamed the same environment and were fossilized in the same place, according to co-author Celina Suarez, a paleontologist with the University of Arkansas.

But adding to the mystery was the presence of ancient charcoal at the site.

“Did a fire rage through here and sweep all these tyrannosaurs in terror out in front of it and lead them down to a lake to get out of the fire and then they died in the flames?” Titus asked. Their analysis concluded the trees that burned were mostly redwoods, and the fire occurred after the dinosaurs died.

“It turned out it was a very low-temperature fire — that kind of creeping, slow-moving, smoldering fire that’s almost never able to kill large animals,” Titus said. “This is the kind of fire that a tyrannosaur could have walked away from.”

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T-rex site in Utah suggests giant dinosaurs were social creatures

ABC 4 19 April, 2021 - 02:49pm

by: Austin Facer

“Hollywood” specimen, same species as Teratophoneus, discovered approximately two miles north of the “Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry” on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (courtesy of Dr. Alan Titus, BLM)

KANAB, Utah (ABC4) – It’s said that teamwork makes the dream work and based on new discovery, researchers now believe that the Tyrannosaurus rex bought into that philosophy millions of years ago.

Based on findings made at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument about the fearsome carnivores, the Bureau of Land Management has published new research suggesting that the dinosaur species may have been more social than historically believed. The findings are based on a 2014 discovery of fossils from four or five different T-rexes at the same site inside the monument’s “Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry.”

“Localities [like Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry] that produce insights into the possible behavior of extinct animals are especially rare, and difficult to interpret,” said tyrannosaur expert Dr. Philip Currie in a press release from the Bureau. “Traditional excavation techniques, supplemented by the analysis of rare earth elements, stable isotopes, and charcoal concentrations convincingly show a synchronous death event at the Rainbows site of four or five tyrannosaurids. Undoubtedly, this group died together, which adds to a growing body of evidence that tyrannosaurids were capable of interacting as gregarious packs.” 

Using complex chemical science to determine the age of the fossils found at the site, the research team, which included scientists from the University of Arkansas and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, were able to conclusively determine that a group of four or five Tyrannosaurus rex died together, suggesting that they lived together and likely hunted and worked together.

Historically speaking, the Tyrannosaurus rex was considered by most dinosaur experts to have been a solitary species, based primarily on the animal’s relatively small brain size, according to the fossil record.

How the T-rex lived and interacted with its environment has long been debated in the paleontology community. Currie first introduced the idea that the giant killers made famous by the Jurassic Park movies could hunt in groups over 20 years ago. This was based on the unearthing of a mass grave of T-rexes in Alberta, Canada. Some skeptics dismissed Currie’s theory, saying that site was not indictive of normal animal behavior. However, the Utah discovery, and an earlier dig in Montana have made Currie’s theory even more compelling, according to the Bureau’s press release.

“The new Utah site adds to the growing body of evidence showing that tyrannosaurs were complex, large predators capable of social behaviors common in many of their living relatives, the birds,” said Dr. Joe Sertich, dinosaur curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science who also worked on his project. “This discovery should be the tipping point for reconsidering how these top carnivores behaved and hunted across the northern hemisphere during the Cretaceous.” 

While it may seem like a fantasy that a dinosaur dig site was named “Rainbow and Unicorn Quarry,” the fossils are the real deal. The name of the site was coined based on a humorous exchange between the researchers.

According to Bureau of Land Management paleontologist Dr. Alan Titus, one of his former employees joked to another that Titus was so excited about what they had found at the site, that it was all “rainbow and unicorns” at the location. The name stuck. Later, as the dig progressed, the scientists brought a plush unicorn mascot, Bruno, to supervise the excavation.

The quarry has also produced many other fascinating finds, including a seven species of turtle, two other dinosaurs, multiple fish, and a nearly complete 12-foot-long Deinosuchus alligator. These fossils are not believed to have died in a group like the T-rexes, however.

The Bureau plans to continue to conduct trace element and isotopic analysis of the tyrannosaur bones with hopes to further understand the dinosaur’s social behavior.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (ABC4) - A letter was sent out to House leaders regarding the ban on earmarks, Monday afternoon.

On April 18, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined his colleagues, led by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), in signing a letter pledging to oppose lifting the ban on earmarks.

It means you need to bust out your hiking boots and celebrate the rocky gems of Utah!

On April 19, the Brian Head Volunteer Firefighters Association is warning citizens of the dangers that come along mud and muck season.

Tyrannosaurs likely hunted in packs rather than heading out solo, scientists find

The Washington Post 19 April, 2021 - 11:00am

“A lot of researchers feel like these animals simply didn’t have the brain power to engage in such complex behavior,” paleontologist Alan Titus, who discovered the quarry site in 2014, told reporters in an online briefing. But this discovery, along with other recent findings, signals otherwise, he said. “This must be reflecting some sort of behavior and not just a freak event happening over and over again.”

The monument, which covers nearly 1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management terrain, provides a nearly complete snapshot of the late Cretaceous period from roughly 95 million to 74 million years ago. Shortly after this period, the impact of volcanic eruptions and an asteroid collision with Earth triggered climate change and a massive extinction event.

The bones at the heart of the latest discovery suggest a dinosaur family that ranged from roughly 4 to 22 years of age and was hunting together when all died. “There it is, a very sad day in southern Utah 76.4 million years ago,” said Titus, who works for the BLM Paria River District.

The researchers are still exploring why the tyrannosaurs would have hunted together but believe a collective effort helped them compete against large, plant-eating dinosaurs.

“This discovery should be the tipping point for reconsidering how these top carnivores behaved and hunted across the Northern Hemisphere during the Cretaceous,” said Joe Sertich, dinosaur curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and one of the project contributors.

The quarry is the first tyrannosaur mass death site found in the southern United States. The researchers, who published their findings Monday in the scientific journal PeerJ, analyzed rare earth elements, stable isotopes and charcoal concentrations to show that the dinosaurs died together.

The location of the discovery lies in the Kaiparowits Unit of the current monument, which remains federally protected. Under Trump’s proclamation, however, two of the ancient rock layers that once were within its boundaries — the Tropic Shale and Straight Cliffs Formation — were almost entirely removed from protection.

David Polly, a paleontologist in Indiana University’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in an email that the new research underscores the importance of restoring Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monument, a site in Utah that is sacred to several tribes and that Trump cut by nearly 85 percent.

“This study involves researchers at four different universities, including experts on dinosaurs, fossil plants, geochemistry, and geochronology, and it uses cutting-edge techniques to analyze everything from the fossils to the chemicals embedded in the ancient sediments in which they were entombed,” noted Polly, who challenged Trump’s monument changes on behalf of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Scientific coordination like this is the single most important benefit of monument status because it enhances the quality of the science and the engagement of the right experts,” he added.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who traveled to Utah this month to survey the two national monuments Trump reduced, spent just one hour in Grand Staircase-Escalante. But she did meet with Titus, who showed her fossils found there. “She was quite inquisitive,” Titus said.

The BLM has continued to protect such remnants of the past even as controversy swirled over the monument’s size. “They’re basically our heritage, our ancient heritage,” Titus said. “They’re part of the story of how North America came to be and how we came to be. And we take that very seriously.”

Haaland has not said whether the administration will expand or restore either of the monuments.

“How we manage public lands and national monuments is important, not just to the tribes and ranchers and elected leaders and others who I met with this week, but to the many generations to come,” she said at the conclusion of her trip.

The most important news stories of the day, curated by Post editors and delivered every morning.

How a mass fossil site in southern Utah may have proved emerging theory about tyrannosaurs

KSL.com 19 April, 2021 - 12:00am

KANAB, Kane County — A small group of tyrannosaurs were roaming the earth together in what is now southern Utah about 76 million years ago when a flood, likely seasonal in nature, sent them to their graves.

There, they rested for millions of years as the entire environment of the region changed: rivers and lakes dried up, fires scorched the land, and new species emerged on the planet.

That's the final theory from a "once in a lifetime" mass tyrannosaur death site paleontologists stumbled across at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument less than a decade ago. Their findings, published in the journal PeerJ Monday, argue that the mass death site isn't just the discovery of a handful of dinosaur bones; rather, it provides proof the fierce dinosaur species lived in packs when they roamed the earth, which could be the final evidence needed to prove a "controversial" theory that's emerged in the paleontological world over the past two decades.

The study provides the latest evidence that seems to conclude that tyrannosaurs were actually social carnivores, like wolves, and less like solitary predators as they had been believed and depicted. It's also the most recent and not believed to be the last scientific work to come from a massive dinosaur fossil site at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The large-scale study began in 2014. That's when Dr. Alan Titus, a paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management, first discovered what is now known as the Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry site at the national monument. The site has since produced the largest mass death site for tyrannosaurs in the southern United States.

In addition to the tyrannosaurs, the site is where paleontologists have uncovered several fish and ray species, seven different species of turtles and two other dinosaur species, as well a prehistoric alligator — although it's not believed that all of the species uncovered died at the same time as the tyrannosaurs.

"I consider this to be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for myself," Titus said. "I probably won't find another site this exciting and scientifically significant in my career."

But others agreed that the site provided a prehistoric treasure trove worthy of that level of excitement.

"(A field worker for me said) this site really is 'rainbows and unicorns,' and so the name just stuck," Titus recalled.

After the dinosaur fossils were dug up, a team of researchers conducted all sorts of tests and analyses on the bones uncovered and the rocks around them. This led them onto a path to possibly providing definitive proof about the social behavior of the extinct species.

Titus explained that the fossils of the tyrannosaurs were originally believed to have been "exhumed and reburied" through the action of a river through the area.

As they continued to study the fossils, the team of researchers now believe the fossils found at the site are proof that a pod of tyrannosaurs were together when they got swept away and killed during seasonal flooding. Their carcasses ended up in a lake where they were left mostly undisturbed until the river cut through the bone bed, Titus said.

That's when he called up Dr. Celina Suarez, an associate professor of paleontology at the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Daigo Yamamura, who was also at the university at the time. They used a "multi-disciplinary approach" of physical and chemical science through carbon and oxygen analysis within the dinosaur bones and rock, which revealed that the bones weren't the result of different time periods or locations that happened to end up at the same site.

In short, the dinosaurs died at the same time at the same place and were fossilized together. Organic matter collected from the site seemed to indicate that the bones were winnowed and then reburied in a river sandbar. After the waters dried up, there was also a low-temperature fire that consumed redwood on the land between the time the dinosaurs died — 76.4 million years ago — and now.

"The similarity of rare earth element patterns is highly suggestive that these organisms died and were fossilized together," Suarez said in a statement Monday.

The researchers said the fact that all of the dinosaurs were together when they died provided "more compelling evidence" that tyrannosaurs were social creatures that habitually lived in groups and didn't roam alone.

In all, researchers from the BLM, University of Arkansas, Miles Community College, Colby College, James Cook University (Australia) and Denver Museum of Nature & Science collaborated on the study.

With researchers coming to the same conclusion at different sites in recent decades, one may think that the theory that tyrannosaurs were more social creatures may become more accepted within the paleontological world.

Dr. Philip Currie first formed the theory more than two decades ago after the first mass tyrannosaur death site was discovered in Canada. Some in the science community debated the idea and viewed the site as circumstantial or some sort of one-time finding.

During a presentation of the study's findings Monday, Titus pointed out that it's not extremely debated within the scientific community that some dinosaurs were "gregarious" and banded together in herds. That's especially true of various herbivore dinosaur species.

"It's a little bit more controversial when you start talking about gregarious predators because predators don't instinctively or automatically become gregarious, at least as readily as plant-eaters," he said. "When you think about predators, there really aren't lots of examples today of large predators that behave in complex social groups like wolves or lions. ... Most predators are solitary."

Many predators are solitary because they are competing against each other for food. A group of dinosaurs banding together to carry out hunts with possible leaders would indicate the species were smarter than originally believed, and that's why many dismissed Currie's theory.

"The idea large predators like t-rex could have actually been social, complex hunters with role-playing and division of the hunt — with ambushers and chasers and then sharing in the kills and all that — is somewhat controversial," Titus added. "A lot of researchers feel like these animals simply didn't have the brainpower to engage in such complex behavior."

Another mass death site in Montana led to more suspicion about the new theory regarding how tyrannosaurs lived; yet, it still wasn't really enough to persuade skeptics. The site at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is now the third of its kind.

"It's very unusual to find this, and yet it keeps repeating itself with tyrannosaurs," he said, arguing that most be an indication of "some behavior" that was different in tyrannosaurs.

The biggest reason there have been differing opinions on the matter is that most fossil records won't preserve evidence of behavior, such as hunting in packs, said Dr. Joseph Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He said there needs to be "amazing evidence" presented to change minds.

That's why he believes the study published Monday has the potential to do that.

"This site, the spectacular accumulation of tyrannosaurs but also the other assembled pieces of evidence that came from work from Dr. Suarez and others, really puts that tipping point — really pushes us to the point where we can actually show some evidence for behavior," he said.

Another reason that the researchers are confident in their findings is that there is at least one descendant of the dinosaurs that acts in the pattern theorized by Currie and backed by the study published Monday: the Harris's hawk. Titus described the species as a cousin of the tyrannosaur.

"They form groups of multiple individuals; they have communal raising of the young; they share in kills, and they actually have a division of labor when they hunt," he said, referring to different roles the birds play when they prey on other species.

For the group of researchers, it goes to show that it's a characteristic that was possible in dinosaurs because it exists in some birds many millions of years later.

Meanwhile, the findings released Monday weren't the first nor will they be the last prehistoric research to come out of the quarry site. BLM officials said this area has become one of "world-class" paleontological study. Secretary of Interior Debra Haaland didn't visit the site during her recent review of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as it wasn't land moved out of protection by the shrinkage of the national monument in 2017, but she did visit the field office where research remains ongoing.

Researchers said there are more plans to research the site in relation to the study published Monday. The group said they hope to find even more evidence from the site to over a "greater degree of certainty" regarding the truth of how tyrannosaurs lived millions of years ago.

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