Evidence shows Utah as a Triassic park

Chris Sessions

Paleontology work is ongoing at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. A recent find from the Triassic period is particularly exciting. (Source: National Park Service)

Most folks know what dinosaurs are. Thanks to the movies, most also know that some of them lived during the Jurassic period. Ironically enough, most of the dinosaurs from the movies actually lived in the Cretaceous period.

But before the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, there was the Triassic period. You would not find many of the dinosaurs made famous by movies during this period. In fact, most people would be hard pressed to name any of the species living during this beginning of the age of reptiles.

And yet, this was the age when these animals—part of a larger group called archosaurs—were coming into their own and evolution was preparing them to become one of the most successful species of land animals in the planet’s history.

Which is why a recent discovery reported by the Salt Lake Tribune is so exciting for paleontologists or anyone who loves dinosaurs, evolution or science.

A huge cache of Triassic fossils—including several previously unknown species—has been discovered by Dan Chure of Dinosaur National Monument and George Englemann of the University of Nebraska, and was presented by Brooks Britt of Brigham Young University.

The find includes fossils from armor-plated crocodilians, coelophysis-type predators, and perhaps most intriguing, a huge pterosaur.

Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs. They were a type of flying reptile living at the same time, but the larger specimens were thought to have evolved later and further north. This unnamed pterosaur is the first of its size found during the Triassic period.

The age of the pterosaur fossils and the delicacy of the bones make finding this specimen an incredible stroke of luck. Any new information about Triassic life is rare, so discovering so much in one place, at one time is like winning the paleontological lottery.

Considering the vast number of fossils already found at places like Dinosaur National Monument and other sites, Utah once again proves itself to be a paleontological gold mine.