Scientists discover 66-million-year-old dinosaur with a heart

Scientists at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences have discovered the world's first dinosaur specimen with a fossilized heart. They report the historic finding in the April 21 issue of the journal Science. The fossil is on display in the museum's new $71-million building, which opened April 7.

"Not only does this specimen have a heart, but computer-enhanced images of its chest strongly suggest it is a four-chambered, double-pump heart with a single systemic aorta, more like the heart of a mammal or bird than a reptile," says Dr. Dale Russell, a paleontologist at NC State University and a senior research curator at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

The finding suggests the dinosaur's circulatory system was more advanced than that of reptiles, and supports the hypothesis that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, Russell says.

"This challenges some of our most fundamental theories about how and when dinosaurs evolved," he says.

Russell is director of the newly created Center for the Exploration of the Dinosaurian World, a joint project of the museum and the university.

The dinosaur, a 66-million-year-old Thescelosaurus (THESS-uh-loh-SAWR-us) about the size of a short-legged pony, was found in 1993 in northwest South Dakota. It was acquired by the museum in 1996 and is on permanent display in the museum's new "Prehistoric North Carolina" exhibit.

Scientists have nicknamed the 663-pound, 13-foot-long herbivore Willo, after the wife of the rancher on whose property it was found.

Images of the fossil, a video, and further information is available on the Web at www.dinoheart.org, a free site maintained jointly by the university and museum.

"Willo's ventricles and aorta indicate it had completely separate pulmonary and body circulation systems, which suggests it had a metabolic rate higher than we generally see in living reptiles," explains Dr. Michael Stoskopf, professor of wildlife and

Contact: Tim Lucas
North Carolina State University

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