A University of Saskatchewan (USask) paleontology student is going hunting for the rest of a champsosaurus skeleton found at a dig site last summer.
While volunteering on a research trip in August 2020, Jack Milligan discovered the fossils of an animal that lived about 66 million years ago.
“Champsosaurs are semi-aquatic crocodile-like reptiles that superficially look like crocodiles. They’ve got long snouts with sharp teeth and long tails, scaly skin,” Milligan said.
“They would have lived in swamp environments and rivers and would have hunted for the same food as crocodiles so like fish and amphibians and would have lived alongside crocodiles.”
The Calgary native said finding the second-most complete skeleton of its kind in Saskatchewan was exciting.
“I found the first couple of bones and one bone just kind of led to another, led to another, led to another and I was just stumbling over my words and screaming on the inside going like, oh, my God, this is a skeleton we’re dealing with and it’s a feeling that all paleontologists live for and I was on cloud nine right from the get-go,” Milligan said.
“It was a mixture of euphoria and shock if I’m to be honest with you. Because every early-career paleontologist has that dream of … to the field and finding the next big discovery and in all honesty, when I was out at the site, I wasn’t expecting to find it. It was just one of those things.
“We think it’s about 35 to 40 per cent complete. So we have a few bones from the back, a dozen or so ribs, as well as bones from all four of the limbs, including the arms and legs and some tailbone. So when you lay them down on the table, it does look like a champsosaur, just a headless champsosaur.”
This summer, Milligan plans to return to the dig site near Climax, Sask., to search for its missing skull.
“That’s the most important part of the animal that we still don’t have. Finding the skull will be able to help us identify exactly what kind of champsosaur it is, hopefully down to the species level,” Milligan said.
Climax is approximately 350 km southwest of Regina.