MANSFIELD, Texas — Not every kid can say he made the discovery of a lifetime before he started kindergarten. Wylie Brys can.
The 4-year-old from southeast Arlington was searching for fish fossils in Mansfield with his dad, Tim, last fall when the preschooler came back with a bone that has excited even seasoned paleontologists from Southern Methodist University.
The 3-inch chunk turned out to be part of a nodosaur, a 94-million-year-old dinosaur that looked like a “fat, squatty cow with armor,” said Michael Polcyn, an SMU paleontologist.
The scientists were initially skeptical about what they would find on the construction site near the new Sprouts Farmers Market less than 100 yards from busy Matlock Road.
They thought the bone was probably from a plesiosaur, which “we have all over the Metroplex,” SMU paleontologist Dale Winkler said.
“We were not expecting to find much of it,” Winkler said. “It looked like the bones had been spread around. We started digging and one bone connected to another bone that connected to another bone that connected to another bone.”
The paleontologists, along with volunteers from the Dallas Paleontological Society, started digging April 3 and unearthed “more than 50 percent” of the nodosaur, one of only five ever found in the Metroplex and the first in decades.
An adult, a baby and a skull were found in Fort Worth, and a few bones were found near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, but none since the 1990s, Winkler said.
And this find is the most complete of all, said SMU paleontologist Louis Jacobs, author of Lone Star Dinosaurs.
“Much of the skeleton is there,” Jacobs said. “We don’t know how much. We took out legs, the backbone and ribs.”
Winkler, Polcyn and members of the paleontological society pulled out most of the body Monday, then uncovered a thighbone Wednesday morning in the thick red clay about a yard from the original find.
“We didn’t think anything else was in there,” Winkler said. “We assumed there weren’t any more bones because there’s a (utility) trench dug on the other side of the bones. A couple of feet to the left and it would have been bad.”
The paleontologists wrapped the bones, which were protected by the rock areas, in plaster and moved the 6-foot-by-3-foot, 18-inch-thick Australia-shaped lump to Jacobs’ lab at SMU, where they will take the skeleton apart, clean the bones and reconstruct what they can of the dinosaur.
The scientists say they probably won’t know why the nodosaur died, but they already know how, just from where it was found.
“Ever see an armadillo on the side of the road?” Polcyn asked. “He blew up like that and floated out to sea.”
Nodosaurs were kind of the armadillos of the dinosaur world — short, squatty and covered in armored plates with a soft underbelly. The reptiles (which are not related to today’s armadillos, which are mammals) were vegetarians and about the size of a small horse, Jacobs said.
The bones were found in what was then the Western Interior Seaway, an extension of the Gulf of Mexico. Fossils of fish scales and bones were found all around the nodosaur.
Although Wylie found the first bone last fall, the paleontologists couldn’t start digging until recently after receiving permission from the landowner and acquiring insurance on the dig. The landowners, whose family has farmed the area for more than a century, have donated the bones to SMU, Winkler said.
The top of the hillside, just west of Sprouts, had been scraped by a grader during construction of the store and washed by the rain, Tim Brys said. Several bones were lying on top of the ground, he said. He reburied them and made note of the area.
The only one who seems unimpressed by the rare discovery is the boy who made it. Asked whether he would rather find dinosaur bones or dig in the dirt, Wylie didn’t hesitate: “Dig in the dirt.”