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Oklahoma researchers from Sam Noble museum instrumental in new dinosaur discovery

BY JANE GLENN CANNON jcannonl@opubco.com Published: February 23, 2011

— A new dinosaur called “thunder thighs,” after its enormously powerful leg muscles, has been discovered in Utah.

The discovery of the Brontomerus Mcintoshi is described in a paper published Tuesday in a British journal by an international scientific team that includes Richard L. Cifelli, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

The fossilized bones of two specimens — an adult and a juvenile — were rescued in the mid-1990s by Sam Noble researchers from a quarry in eastern Utah that had been looted and damaged, possibly by fossil hunters, Cifelli said.

Cifelli and his co-authors classified the new genus based on an incomplete skeleton now held at the Sam Noble museum, including bones from the shoulder, hip, ribs, vertebrae and some unidentifiable fragments.

Brontomerus is a sauropod, a member of the large, plant-eating group of dinosaurs that includes Diplodocus, Aptosaurus and Brachiosaurus, Cifelli said.

The shape of the hip bone indicates the animal would likely have had the largest leg muscles of any dinosaur in the long-necked sauropod family, Cifelli said.

This is reflected in the name Brontomerus, which literally means “thunder thighs.” The dinosaur's species name, Mcintoshi, was chosen in honor of John “Jack” McIntosh, a retired physicist at Wesleyan University, Conn., and lifelong avocational paleontologist.

Brontomerus may have used its powerful thighs as a weapon to kick predators, or to help travel over rough, hilly terrain, Cifelli said.

The Brontomerus lived about 110 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period, and may have had to contend with fierce raptors, such as Deinonychus and Utahraptor, the curator said.

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