image_3259_1e-Ugrunaaluk-kuukpikensisAn artist’s depiction of what paleontologists believe Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis looked like. Image credit: James Havens.

Along the Colville River’s ancient sediments in the Liscomb Bone Bed (an area managed by BLM Alaska) lies a trove of fossils. Each field season, the BLM issues permits that allow qualified paleontologists and researchers to partake in limited surface collection and excavation in this area. This research adds to our understanding of Alaska’s distant past and how it relates to life elsewhere in the world long ago.

The curator of earth sciences for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North, Patrick Druckenmiller, says “this is the best place in the world to find polar dinosaurs.” This is where researchers recently discovered the fossilized bones of the “ancient grazer,” Ungrunaaluk kuukpikensis (oo-GREW-naluck KOOK-pik-en-sis), Alaska’s newest hydrosaur and the fourth species unique to northern Alaska.

Erickson-5x3_referenceFlorida State University Researcher Greg Erickson works a fossil site in the Liscomb Bone Bed.

Scientists sought assistance from Native Iñupiaq speakers to name this newest duckbilled dinosaur species. “Ugru” means plant grinding, “Naluk” means respectfully old, and “Kuukpikensis” is the Inupiat name for the area along the Colville River.

Nearing the end of the Mesozoic Era’s Cretaceous Period (146- 65 million years ago) when U. Kuukpikensis lived, river systems crossed the ancient Arctic flood plain and vegetation thrived during the sunny summer season. These herbivorous polar dinosaurs likely roamed in herds and used their hundreds of grinding teeth to survive on coarse vegetation. They grew to 30-feet long.

Druckenmeyer says that “dinosaurs … living here in the Arctic were a completely different species from those who lived at the same time at lower latitudes… this suggests we had our own unique polar community up here.”

(Adapted from BLM Frontiers Newsletter Issue 125, Winter/Spring 2015/2016)