Identification of Late Cretaceous Dinosaur Teeth
The following article, written by Joseph LeBlanc, is reproduced here with the permission of Lynne Clos, editor/publisher of Fossil News. It originally appeared in the January issue of Fossil News, a journal devoted to amateur paleontology.
While scrambling over Cretaceous hoodoos, I heard a loud cry from my wife, Nora. Alarm! Perhaps she had fallen into one of the yawning sinkholes that prey on the unwary hiker or.... had a disturbed rattlesnake lashed out at an exposed ankle? Fortunately, neither. Around an exposed outcrop she emerged, grinning ear to ear. A waving hand clenched a gleaming four-inch T. rex tooth. The cry was one of ecstasy. The serrated tyrannosaurid dagger is still a prize in our fossil collection.
The dinosaur tooth collector tackles the Cretaceous badlands with the same enthusiasm that gold-crazed prospectors flocked to the Yukon's Klondike. Teeth are great finds. Not only are they paleo masterpieces but are one of the few fossils that can often identify the dino host. The Late Cretaceous exposures of Western North America offer the determined collector a whole range of teeth.
It may be a 'no-brainer,' but the taxa of teeth found in a geologic formation will be the same as the dinosaurs deposited. No, you will not find Albertosaurus teeth in the latest Maastrichtian exposures of the Scollard Formation of Alberta. Yes, you will find T. rex teeth. No, you will not find Triceratops remains in the Campanian Judith River Formation of Montana. Yes, you will find other ceratopsians. This sounds simple. Unfortunately, the majority of dinosaur teeth (and other dino fossils) sold on the market are misidentified. The label says dromaeosaur (raptor), but could it be a small Daspletosaurus? The label says Edmontosaurus, but should it be its hadrosaurian kin Kritosaurus?
Dino teeth are common yet often left undiscovered in the field. Would you recognize a dino tooth if it were at your feet and taunting you to pick it up? The nasty predator teeth look like teeth and would be plucked instantly. What about the others? A half protruding Triceratops tooth...a root-first ankylosaur tooth...a worn hadrosaur crown: would these be passed by?
The following is a general guide to identification of Late Cretaceous dino teeth at the family level. Trying to identify isolated teeth to genus is a near impossibility without collecting information. With collecting information the task enters the realm of the possible. Much literature exists as to what genera of dinosaurs lived when and in which formations. Of course, the research is not complete, but in paleontology, it never is.
Theropod (fig.1): tyrannosaurids, raptors, Tro÷dons. (Ornithomimids were theropods but lacked teeth.)
Ankylosaurs (fig. 2): 'Armored tanks' such as Panoplosaurus, Euplocephalus, Ankylosaurus.
Hadrosaurs (fig. 3): Edmontosaurus, Kritosaurus, Lambeosaurus and a host of others.
Ceratopsians (fig. 4): Triceratops, Centrosaurus, and other horned dinosaurs.
Canadian winter nights are long and cold. On these nights I like to hold dino tooth specimens and dream of the sun-baked days of next collecting season. It's easy to get lost in reverie when one realizes that dino teeth are the 'real thing'. The enamel is too dense to be filled with mineral replacements. Their thrill lasts long after initial discovery. One can hold an actual Triceratops tooth that once munched on cycad fronds... and run a finger over the serrations of a Tyrannosaurus tooth that long ago pierced the hide of its hadrosaur victim.