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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: September 13, 2018

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Gov. Herbert welcomes Akainacephalus johnsoni  back to Kane County

Partners from Kane County, BLM, Park Service, City of Big Water and the State of Utah join Governor Herbert (c) to unveil the exhibit of the latest named dinosaur at the BLM Big Water Visitor Center on September 11, 2018.

Last July, a new species of dinosaur from the Kaiparowits Formation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), within Kane County, Utah, was announced in Salt Lake City.  Named Akainacephalus johnsoni, this club-tailed wonder is revealing new details about the diversity and evolution of its family, the armored dinosaurs. On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, Akainacephalus johnsoni made its way back to Kane County, where it was unveiled locally with Governor Herbert in attendance at the GSENM BLM Visitor Center in Big Water. The event also highlighted the need for Kane County, the BLM, and others, to form partnerships and develop exhibit space at the new Kanab Center, to display these exciting finds. 

This is the 14th recently named dinosaur discovery from the area and it is anticipated that a rich future of scientific research in the field of paleontology will continue. The BLM regularly works with universities and researchers on these world-renowned, unique discoveries. Currently, the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, houses many of the discoveries, and this effort seeks to augment these displays in a museum for the local population of the Kanab area, and for the over four million travelers who visit the area each year to enjoy. 

Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said, “We are excited Governor Herbert could join us for this event and express his support. It is our vision to develop accurate science exhibits that will be used for the enjoyment of visitors, to stimulate economic growth, and also build support for the scientific research being conducted on our public lands.” Clayson went on to say, “The BLM building in Kanab, currently has an operational laboratory facility now that we are hoping to expand with a new facility. Expanded facilities exhibiting these incredible findings will be a great community asset, and we are excited about the many opportunities this initiative will provide.”

Akainacephalusis is the most complete Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaur discovered from Utah and the southwestern U.S., and is distinguished by a number of unique features, including spikes and cones of the bony exterior covering the head and snout. The dinosaur is part of a growing number of new dinosaur discoveries over the past 15 years demonstrating the incredible diversity of animals and plants living on Laramidia between 80-75 million years ago. One of the most exciting conclusions from this work highlights nearly every species of dinosaur discovered in GSENM is new to science, and Akainacephalusis is no exception. 

Commissioner Clayson also said, “Our local experts and the discoveries they are unearthing are recognized as some of the best scientific exhibits in the world. It is time we find a way to celebrate and display these discoveries locally. The local BLM Paleontology staff and volunteers led by Alan Titus, are fantastic resourceful revered professionals. Kane County expresses our sincere gratitude to the local BLM office for their willingness to work on this partnership.”

Since 2005, 14 new species of dinosaurs have been named from the Kaiparowits Plateau region, Hagryphus giganteus, Gryposaurus monumentensis, Nothronychus graffami, Diabloceratops eatoni, Utahceratops gettyi, Kosmoceratops richardsoni, Teratophoneus curriei, Nasutoceratops titusi, Talos sampsoni, Lythronax argestes, Machairoceratops cronusi, Adelolophus hutchisoni, Acristavus gaglarsoni, and most recently, Akainocephalus johnsoni. That’s an average of slightly more than one per year, which is as high a rate of discovery of new dinosaurs as anywhere in the world. Several more discoveries will be published or submitted within the next two or three years, including a new armored dinosaur, two new horned dinosaurs, a new dome headed dinosaur (Pachycephalosaur), a tiny new plant eater (Hypsilophodont), a new species of Hadrosaur, and possibly a new Tyrannosaur. 

Much of the research is coordinated through Alan Titus, GSENM Paleontologist, who stated, “We’ve also found some pretty bizarre non-dinosaur animals including six-foot diameter lake turtles, armored giant tortoises with eggs preserved inside them, 35-foot long alligators, and land dwelling crocodiles. The richness of fossil species in southern Utah appears to be higher than elsewhere in North America (at the same time), and it seems the place was an ecological paradise, with a warm tropical climate and plentiful rain. These finds are changing how we see the dinosaur world, indicating it was more diverse and complex in North America than previously thought.“

The Kaiparowits Plateau is truly one of the paleontological wonders of the world right now, and certainly is one of the most exciting frontiers for dinosaur research. 

Titus said, “So few people know about the discoveries because there is no place outside of Salt Lake City to see all these exciting finds on display. Because so many larger animals have now been, or soon will be, named, it is high time for visitors to southern Utah have a place where they can experience the same wonder and awe, that to date, has largely only been felt by the specialists who make these discoveries.“ 

Full mounted skeletons of the great beasts that once lived in southern Utah during the zenith of the dinosaur age would be an amazing asset to the area and could potentially serve as a major economic engine, potentially attracting tens of thousands of visitors.

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