By Caroline Jenkins Hanna
[Old Bones] An agile and speedy vegan dinosaur has found a new home in the college’s Beneski Museum of Natural History. It’s a Dryosaurus altus skeleton, and it’s arguably the most complete and best-preserved of that particular species in existence today.
It came to Amherst as a gift from John Middleton ’77 and his wife, Leigh, who bought it at auction. When it was installed on the ground level of the museum in April, it became one of only two Dryosaurus skeletons in the world on display as a freestanding, three-dimensional mount.
“It is exciting to see this virtually complete specimen of such a rare dinosaur come into the public trust,” says David Evans, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, who believes that its study will aid in scientific understanding of ornithopod dinosaurs.
Dryosaurus altus roamed North America during the Late Jurassic period, about 150 to 145 million years ago. The dinosaur was roughly three feet tall and 10 feet long from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail—about the height of a pony and the length of an American alligator. It had a horny beak with teeth only at the back of its jaw, which enabled it to pluck off and chew plants quickly. The dinosaur moved around on two legs that were designed for speed and agility; scientists estimate that it possibly reached speeds of 40 miles an hour.
“One of the things that is so wonderful about this gift,” says Professor of Geology Tekla Harms, director of the museum, “is that it keeps the Dryosaurus available for research and study.” For example, comparing Dryosaurus altus to a closely related species that lived in East Africa at the same time “could provide clues,” she says, “to how the rifting continents were arranged during the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Now that it’s in the museum, the skeleton is spending quality time with a fellow Wyomingite—or at least part of one: it stands next to the 10-foot-tall leg bones of Diplodocus longus, another herbivorous dinosaur from the same strata and the same region of Wyoming.
Photos by Rob Mattson