Young Adventurers Uncover Rare T. Rex Fossil In North Dakota Badlands

June 5, 2024

Today's good news story comes from North Dakota.

Three young boys were left "completely speechless" after discovering a T. rex fossil during a family hike in the North Dakota Badlands.

young boys discover t-rex fossil
Liam, Jessin and Kaiden / Credit: Tyler Lyson

What started as a casual outing turned into a remarkable moment of scientific discovery for eight-year-old Liam, his 11-year-old brother Jessin, and their 10-year-old cousin Kaiden Madsen.

The boys were on a fossil-hunting adventure when they spotted large bones emerging from a sedimentary rock formation. Initially, Liam thought the bones were what he jokingly called "chunk-osaurus" — a term he made up for fossil fragments too small to identify.

The family snapped a few photos and contacted their father's high-school classmate, Dr. Tyler Lyson, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and a hometown hero from Marmarth, North Dakota.

Dr. Lyson, suspecting the bones might belong to a relatively common duckbill dinosaur, organized an excavation last summer. The boys, along with their 14-year-old sister Emalynn Fisher, eagerly joined the team. It wasn't long before they realized they had found something extraordinary.

"Instead of finding a cervical vertebrae, we found the lower jaw with several teeth sticking out of it," Dr. Lyson told ABC News. "And it doesn't get any more diagnostic than that, seeing these giant tyrannosaurus teeth staring back at you."

Over 11 meticulous days, the team carefully removed the overlying rock and excavated around the bones. The T. rex fossil was then wrapped in a plaster and burlap jacket and airlifted off the hill by a Black Hawk helicopter. From there, it was transported on a heavy-duty trailer from the Badlands to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for preservation.

Experts estimate the dinosaur was a "teenager," based on the size of the tibia — about two-thirds the size of a full-grown adult T. rex. The Teen Rex measured approximately 25 feet long and weighed around 3,500 pounds, equivalent to two rhinos. For comparison, adult T. rexes could reach 40 feet in length and weigh as much as four rhinos.

The museum's scientists are now studying the bones to determine exactly how old the Teen Rex was when it died millions of years ago.

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