Experts discover Walter the Dinosaur was larger, older than they originally thought he was

Amber Delay
Craig Press

Walter the Dinosaur may have been discovered just outside of Moffat County, but there are still many questions that experts hope his bones can answer. 

The dinosaur came to be known as Walter after a Great Dane named Walter was credited for sniffing out the first set of bones that led to the find. The bones were discovered by Ellis Thomson-Ellis, her husband Josh Ellis and their dog when the trio were out for a hike south of Rangely in 2014.

The Northwest Colorado Field Museum at Colorado Northwestern Community College is home to the repository where Walter’s bones are being studied. It’s regarded as one of the most significant discoveries of dinosaur bones in Northwest Colorado. 

The field museum has been working in partnership with the North Carolina State University paleobiology and forensic anthropology department to piece together information about Walter, including whether he is a newly discovered dinosaur species. 

Emi Bender, a graduate student from the North Carolina State University, has been studying Walter for her thesis paper, which is aimed for publication in May. Bender visited the field museum on Nov. 21 to present her findings so far. 

Field Museum Manager Sue Mock said the biggest take away from Bender’s visit was that researchers were able to identify more of Walter’s bones and they indicate he is bigger — and possibly older — than they originally thought. 

“The pieces we have here weren’t enough to say definitely what species he is,” Mock said. “But we know he’s big and he’s old.” 

According to Mock, the program at North Carolina State University is able to take scans and make 3D images of the bones in order to piece together the whole picture of what Walter was. What has been discovered so far is that Walter was a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur in the Tyrannosaurus family, from the Cretaceous period. 

Now, the team of experts is trying to determine whether Walter could be a gyposaurus, which is a more common species of dinosaur, a Kritosaur, which is a rarer species, or possibly a new species altogether. This is also the question that Bender is hoping to answer in her thesis paper. 

Although more evidence about Walter is being uncovered almost daily, there are still many unknowns. Mock said that Walter is already twice as big as anything paleontologists have seen to date. While most dinosaurs that are uncovered are juveniles, Walter’s bones show evidence of arthritis, and fused bones in his skull and jaw that suggest he is older than other finds. 

Walter may be a new species or he may have lived longer during a different time period that allowed him to survive beyond the typical life expectancy for similar species. These are all possibilities Bender is exploring in her research. 

Identifying a portion of Walter’s pelvic bone allowed the team to understand Walter’s size better, but there are still many bones the team is unsure about. Mock said that Walter was definitely a quadrupedal considering how his arms were developed, and he probably had the ability to walk on his hind legs, though he mostly traveled on all four. 

Hadrosaurs have similar bodies with different shaped heads, meaning that identifying what species Water was could come down to a small bone on the bridge of his nose, Mock said. For a kritosaurus, the bump on the nose is smaller than it is for a gryposaurus. 

Regardless of whether Walter turns out to be a new species, Bender said she intends to identify him and publish her thesis paper next year, which will be a feat for the six-year project.

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