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Kansas' Only Known Dinosaur Is Back Home On The Range At KU Museum

Oscar Sanisidro
Kansas' only-known dinosaur, Silvisaurus condrayi, as depicted by Oscar Sanisidro, a scientific illustrator at the University of Kansas.

Silvisaurus condrayi, the only dinosaur known to have lived on the land that is now Kansas, is strutting its stuff again in Lawrence.

The dinosaur's skeleton is featured in a new exhibit at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, along with an interactive display with images of the creature and the environment where it lived 100 million years ago.

David Burnham, a paleontologist at the museum, said Silvisaurus was a bizarre-looking, 12-foot-long plant eater with bonny plates embedded to its skin, parallel spikes going down its neck and large spikes over its shoulder.

The creature’s armor was to protect it from other dinosaurs, but scientists don’t know who those predators were, Burnham told Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

The dinosaur's remains were discovered in 1955 by an Ottawa County rancher named Warren Condray. He and his son were checking on cows and calves when they spotted unusual bone fragments in a rock. Condray and his son didn’t know what exactly they had found, but they realized that it was something important.

Condray (the dinosaur would later be named after him) called his state senator, and paleontologists later came over to collect the remains. They found a skull, a lower jaw, teeth, neck bones, ribs, shoulder spikes, backbones, a tailbone, a leg, part of the pelvis and other bits.

Silvisaurus belongs to the ankylosaurid family of medium-sized, four-legged dinosaurs that were often armored plant-eaters. Burnham said the discovery of Silvisaurus was "quite significant," and has aided scientists who are studying this group of dinosaurs.

“It’s one of the primitive members of the group, and so we know the origins of this type of dinosaur were very close to what Silvisaurus looked like,” Burnham said.

Silvisaurus condrayi means "lizard of the forest." KU researchers say it got that name because it lived on a wooded beachfront during an era when what is now Kansas was covered by water.

Burnham said that the Condray family is still in touch with museum, and Condray’s son Jettie loves to tell people about the day he and his father found the dinosaur.

It took a while, however, for a Silvisaurus to be presented in its fullest form.

A previous exhibition at the museum consisted only of several Silvisaurus bones and those of another Canadian dinosaur, Burnham said, explaining that paleontologists determined it was too hard to remove all of the Silvisaurus bones bone from the rock. But as technologies evolved, they were able to remove pieces from the rock more easily.

Some of the bones were lost because of their exposure to rain, Burnham said, but scientists could restore them based on the marks they left in the rock.

“People think: 'Oh, paleontology, they still are doing everything the same old way," Burnham said. "But actually we do incorporate as much technology as we can to our work now.”

Listen to the full conversation here.

Anna Yakutenko is Alfred Friendly Press Partners Fellow working at KCUR. You can reach her at annay@kcur.org.

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