In Montana, inside the Judith River Formation, one of the missing links in evolution has been found, and it’s called a “super duck”. The area of Montana in which the fossils were discovered is one of the highest regarded regions in the world when it comes to fossils, mainly because of the exposed rock, free from plants.
Probrachylophosaurus bergei is the missing link when looking to why dinosaurs evolved into having protrusions and crests on their heads and it can even be called the late ancestor of the well-known triceratops. This dinosaur also sports a bill, making it a part of the branch of plant eating dinosaurs appropriately dubbed the “duck-billed” dinosaurs. But its impressive stature, growing to nearly 30 feet and weighing almost 5 tons earned him the nickname of “super duck”.
The reason why this dinosaur is such an important discovery is that it is the oldest duck-billed dinosaur to adorn this type of small crest. His ancestor, the Acristavus, a duck-billed dinosaur that lived over 81 million years ago, had a flat head, with no protrusions or crests of any kind, making the “super duck” the first step towards evolving into the full crests that later duck-billed dinosaurs had.
This puts the newly found dinosaur in the middle, between Brachylophosaurus and Acristavus, making him the missing evolutionary step of duck-billed dinosaurs, making the link from transitional nasal shape that the non-crested dinosaurs had, like the Acristavus, to the large flat nasal crest of the Brachylophosaurus and the later species. The crests that the duck-billed family, also known as the Hadrosaurs, possessed can also be seen today on cassowaries and hornbills.
The growth of the crest was directly linked to the age of the specimen, adults possessing a much larger crest than the juveniles, as discovered by Dr. Freedman Fowler and his colleagues, even though the size of the crest was much smaller than the later Brachylophosaurus.
The actual age of the specimen was gathered through a process similar to the one that allows us to know the age of trees. The leg bones of the dinosaur sported growth rings, similar to a tree, allowing the scientists to discern that the super duck was around 14 years old.
Even though the name can be a little bit funny, we can safely say that one of the missing links in evolution has been found, and it’s called “super duck” a name given by the one who discovered the fossil, Dr. Freedman Fowler.