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Moab already revels in superlatives associated with its geology, canyons, parks, trails, even its maddening crowds, but many scientists believe Utah's outdoor recreation magnet should also be famous for its dinosaur paleontology.
That honor came home this week.
A new dinosaur was officially named for Moab after researchers from Brigham Young University pulled together a complete picture of a new sauropod from thousands of fossilized bones recovered from a nearby quarry at Dalton Wells.
After years of effort, geologist Brooks Britt published a paper Tuesday characterizing the long-necked plant eater whose 32-foot length makes it tiny, as far as sauropods go.
"We are really excited about this new dinosaur," Britt said. "It's one we have been working on for decades. We had to collect huge numbers of bones that were complete to get enough to describe the new animals."
A specimen has been on display at BYU's Museum of Paleontology for years, but it was only after publishing his findings in the University of Michigan's "Contributions from the Museum of Paleontology" that Britt could give the animal a name science would recognize.
That name is Moabosaurus utahensis.
Britt's team had recovered 5,500 bones from the Cedar Mountain Formation and dated to the early Cretaceous.
"One hundred and twenty-five million years ago, when these animals died, there was a drought, and, during this drought, hundreds if not thousands of animals died," said Britt. "The surviving animals walked along and crushed these bones and that's why only 3 percent of the bones we collected at this quarry are complete."
His team members did have remains from 18 individuals to work with and these bones reveal a lot. From the many skulls they had, Britt could tell the Moabosaurus' brain was the "size of a Chinese egg roll," and its teeth were rounded.
"They were not useful for chewing food," he said. "They were useful for biting the food off and then swallowing it."
Southern Utah was hardly the desert it is today when Moabosaurus lived; it was a lush land with large trees growing along streams and lakes.
From previous research, Britt has shown drought played a factor in environmental changes that killed large numbers of animals left in the area as fossil remnants.
Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at email@example.com or 801-257-8713.