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Fossil of prehistoric lizard ‘on steroids’ found at Alberta mining site

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Fossil of prehistoric lizard ‘on steroids’ found at Alberta mining site

Mining operations have been providing a regular supply of various fossils for years, according to Donald Henderson of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, and the museum has about 30 partially complete mosasaurus skeletons.

In an interview, Henderson, the museum’s dinosaur curator, said, “It does surprise me because there are long sequences of vertical layers of rock where you don’t find any and then you come to a layer where there’s a whole bunch.”

“In Alberta, we’re very fortunate. “We get a lot of different reptile fossils,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re blasé, but compared to other parts of the world, they’d kill for what we have.”

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Every find, according to Henderson, is unique.

“It’s never too late to learn something new.” One of the things we’ve been tracking for the past few years is where they come from in the rock layers. He explained that the vertical layer of rock “records time.”

“We can see what species are present at what layers… and possibly the menu items, because these were the top predators,” says the researcher.

The mosasaurus is not a dinosaur, according to Henderson. He claims it evolved from land-dwelling lizards and began to adapt to water with the addition of four modified flippers and extra joints in their skulls over millions of years.

“These things are like Komodo dragons on steroids,” he said, referring to the world’s largest living lizard, the Komodo dragon. “A big Komodo dragon is about 10 feet long, and these are three to four times that.”

The mosasaurus has been identified as a top predator, according to Henderson.

“We have a few specimens with stomach contents, so they were eating fish, turtles, and other mosasaurs,” he explained. “They’d eat anything they could get their hands on.”

Over the last 40 years, John Issa, vice-president of business development for Korite, a Canadian company that mines and sells ammolite, Alberta’s official gemstone, has discovered 12 mosasaurs.

“So it’s not a rare occurrence,” Issa explained, “but it’s a special occurrence when it happens.”

“This piece had a fantastic skull.” It had a jaw section with teeth in the same rock for both the upper and lower jaws.”

Mine foreman Evan Kovacs said it was just another day until the excavator operator noticed the skull and jawbone, which had already been sent to the museum.

“They just moved some material around, scraping it just to level off the machine,” Kovacs explained, “and they found some brown material, which turned out to be the bones of the mosasaur that they found.”

“Every time we find something that turns out to be a vertebrate fossil, like this mosasaur, it’s a very exciting moment,” says the researcher.

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