The myth of Parasaurolophus in Hell Creek
Skye McDavid, April 15, 2022
Parasaurolophus, with its long crest, is one of the most iconic dinosaurs, and in paleoart it is often depicted alongside an even more iconic dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus. This is wrong, but some instances of it may be based on an error in what is possibly the most important reference work on Dinosaurs. The second edition of The Dinosauria lists a possible occurrence of Parasaurolophus walkeri in the Hell Creek Formation. This is, quite simply, an error.
The material in question is AMNH FR 5893, a humerus and some unspecified fragments, collected in 1906 by Barnum Brown. It is listed in the American Museum of Natural History's catalog as belonging to Parasaurolophus walkeri. However, I find this identification questionable, as do several published sources. Lull and Wright 1942 simply list it as an indeterminate hadrosaur, while Carpenter et al 1995 and Pietro-Márquez et al 2012 both list is as cf Parasaurolophus sp.
Photo by Skye McDavid
The first wrinkle is that this specimen doesn't really look that much like Parasaurolophus. Although it's clearly a hadrosaur, the morphology of the humerus is somewhat different from that of Parasaurolophus. I think it's safest to consider it an indeterminate hadrosaur.
But there's an even bigger wrinkle. The "Hell Creek Parasaurolophus" isn't from the Hell Creek Formation. It was collected near Hell Creek, the creek that gives its name to the stratigraphic unit, but 30 meters below the base of the Hell Creek Formation itself, in the Pierre Shale. It appears that this occurrence of a hadrosaur considered by some to be similar to Parasaurolophus near Hell Creek, the creek, was misreported as an occurrence of Parasaurolophus itself in the Hell Creek Formation.
So if you want to illustrate Tyrannosaurus preying on a hadrosaur, it should be Edmontosaurus annectens.
The Dinosauria (Second Edition) by David B. Weishampel, Peter Dodson, & Halszka Osmólska, 2004
American Museum of Natural History Paleobiology Database, FR 5893
Hadrosaurian Dinosaurs of North America by Richard Swann Lull & Nelda Emelyn Wright, 1942
Carpenter, K., Dilkes, D., Weishampel, D. B. (1995) The Dinosaurs of the Niobrara Chalk Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Kansas) Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 15(2): 275-297 https://www.jstor.org/stable/4523631
Pietro-Márquez, A., Chiappe L. M., Joshi S. H. (2012) The Lambeosaurine Dinosaur Magnapaulia laticaudus from the Late Cretaceous of Baja California, Northwestern Mexico. PLoS ONE (7)6: e38207 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038207
Brett-Surman, M. K., Wagner, J. R., & Carpenter, K. (2007). Discussion of character analysis of the appendicular anatomy in Campanian and Maastrichtian North American hadrosaurids—variation and ontogeny. Horns and beaks. Ceratopsian and ornithopod dinosaurs, 135-169.