Fossils found

Significant ND fossil find leads to groundbreaking study results

Submitted Photo Fossil remains of the Didelphodon vorax, an early marsupial, found in North Dakota are shown in this photo from the Burke Museum. A recent study concludes it had, pound-for-pound, the strongest bite force of any mammal ever recorded.

BISMARCK – The discovery of an early marsupial fossilized skull more than nine years ago near Marmarth in southwestern North Dakota has led to a groundbreaking study and subsequent publishing in a renowned scientific journal.

Nature Communications on Thursday released an article titled, “A large carnivorous mammal from the Late Cretaceous and the North American origin of marsupials”

The article details results of a collaborative study of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington and North Dakota Geological Survey that concludes the Didelphodon vorax had, pound-for-pound, the strongest bite force of any mammal ever recorded. It lived during the very end of the Late Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago.

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is a natural history museum in Seattle, Wash.

“We were out on a public fossil dig excavating a Triceratops skull,” said John Hoganson former North Dakota state paleontologist and current paleontologist emeritus. “We took a break from that excavation and I did a little side digging and I found this skull. I knew right away that this was a very significant fossil. I knew these types of mammals have been only studied from teeth and isolated teeth at that. When I found the skull, I knew right away that I had to get a hold of the expert in this field right away.”

Hoganson immediately contacted Greg Wilson, Burke Museum adjunct curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and University of Washington associate professor of biology. From there, the skull was studied alongside three other partial Didelphodon specimens, concluding that this small, possum-sized creature packed a big bite.

“This is why we search for fossils,” said Clint Boyd, North Dakota senior paleontologist. “This find sheds a light on marsupials and mammals that lived here 66 million years ago. We have found some pretty important specimens on our public fossil digs in recent years, but this one is on a whole other level. The skull is a great asset to the North Dakota State Fossil Collection that will bring in outside researchers to see this material. This shows the exciting types of discoveries on our public fossil digs.”

Hoganson calls it one of the most important fossils that he found in his career, if not the most important from the scientific standpoint.  Reconstruction of the full Didelphodon and a cast of the fossilized skull are currently on display in the Geologic Time Gallery in the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.

To read the full article in Nature Communications go to nature.com/articles/ncomms13734.

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