This is the fifth and final post of a series by Jordan Mallon, Ph.D., that profiles the fossils featured in the museum’s Dino Idol competition. The contest began February 16 and you have until March 17, 2013, to visit the Canadian Museum of Nature and choose your favourite from among the five dinosaurs whose bones are sealed away in plaster field jackets.

In the scientific discipline of taxonomy (the naming and classification of organisms), few things are as essential as holotypes. A holotype is a single, formally designated specimen used to exemplify the distinctive features of a newly described species.

Effectively, it’s the touchstone specimen on which a species name and description are based, and with which all future comparisons to that species must be made.

Jordan Mallon in the museum with one of Regal Ed's plaster jackets.
Palaeontologist Jordan Mallon at the Dino Idol exhibition with Regal Ed’s plaster jacket. Image: Dan Smythe © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Regal Ed, the final contender in our Dino Idol contest, is important because it’s a holotype specimen (formal designation: CMN 2288). It’s a partial duck-billed dinosaur skeleton (hadrosaurid) found by Levi Sternberg near the junction of Three Hills Creek and the Red Deer River in Alberta in 1912.

Two men load a horse cart with wooden boxes on the platform beside a freight train.
Once fossils like Regal Ed were removed from the field, they were crated and brought to the nearest train yard for shipping back to the museum. Here, you can see two men loading some of these heavy crates onto a boxcar. If you look very carefully, you may even notice that the crates are upside-down! Image: Charles H. Sternberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Shortly after the specimen was collected, the skull was prepared and described in the scientific literature, and was given the name Edmontosaurus regalis. However, the rest of the skeleton was neglected. It remains entombed in its three original plaster jackets to this day.

A plaster jacket on a pallet in front of the mounted, holotype Edmontosaurus regalis (CMN 2288) skull on a shelf in the museum's collections.
One of three jackets that contain Regal Ed, displayed alongside the skull in the museum collections. (The hard hat gives a sense of scale). Image: Alan MacDonald © Canadian Museum of Nature

As a holotype specimen, Regal Ed requires further preparation so that it can be properly accessioned into the museum’s collections, and so that the rest of the skeleton can be suitably described.

This will greatly enhance the scientific value of the fossil, and enable palaeontologists to study it properly. I’m particularly interested in comparing the skeleton to another that was assigned to Edmontosaurus regalis, also here at the museum (CMN 2289), to see whether they are truly the same species.

Will Regal Ed warrant enough of your votes to reunite his head with his body? That’s up to you to decide!

Illustration of an Edmontosaurus regalis dinosaur.
Once assembled, Regal Ed will no doubt prove to be an impressive animal! This illustration shows an Edmontosaurus regalis drinking peacefully from a water hole. Image: Brett Booth © Canadian Museum of Nature

Well, that wraps up our introduction to the fossil contestants in our Dino Idol contest. I think you’ll agree that, no matter which fossil wins, we’re bound to find out something new and exciting. Please continue to follow this blog for the announcement of the Dino Idol winner, and for progress reports on the following preparation of the fossil.

Read previous blogs about the Dino Idol contestants:
Dino Idol Contestant #1: Headrosaur—A Head Without a Body!
Dino Idol Contestant #2: Mystery Jaw—A Carnivore in Search of an Identity
Dino Idol Contestant #3: Stumpy—The Mystery of the Missing Horn
Dino Idol Contestant #4: Canadian Club—A Powerful Tail