The curator of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., John Horner, described to Utah State University students and faculty last week how he re-creates the life of dinosaurs with 80 million-year-old remains.
Horner told the audience that he prefers to study the life of dinosaurs and not their death. "I'm not a paleomortician," he said.Horner uses the ancient remains to create scenarios of dinosaurs running in herds and caring for their offspring. He discovered several groups of dinosaur eggs at an excavation site in Montana, called Egg Mountain. From these discoveries he has made several deductions about the family life of dinosaurs.
"When the remains are in place, you can do behavioral studies," he said.
Horner said the nests at Egg Mountain suggest that the dinosaurs nested in colonies. He said the dinosaurs probably returned to the same site each year to nest.
Horner said during the time of the dinosaurs, Egg Mountain was probably an island in a shallow lake, with the lake offering protection to the helpless young.
Most of the eggs Horner found consisted only of the lower half. A few eggs contained fossil embryo skeletons. The shell fragments found in the nest and the size of the bones indicate that the young remained in the nest for some time, he said.
Horner said the nest-bound babies had huge eyes and a shortened snout, unlike their parents. He speculates that the young were covered with a downy insulation and that the plant-eating mother fed her brood by regurgitation. Examination of the blood vessel canals in the bones indicates that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, he said
Horner said evidence suggests that dinosaurs behaved in ways similar to the birds and mammals of today, not in the sluggish manner most people think.