Jack Horner (paleontologist)

Jack Horner (paleontologist)

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John "Jack" R. Horner is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Paleontology "old, ancient", ὄν, ὀντ- "being, creature", and λόγος "speech, thought") is the study of prehistoric life. It includes the study of fossils to determine organisms' evolution and interactions with each other and their environments...

 who discovered and named Maiasaura
Maiasaura is a large duck-billed dinosaur genus that lived in the area currently covered by the state of Montana in the Upper Cretaceous Period , about 74 million years ago....

, providing the first clear evidence that some dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s cared for their young. He is one of the best-known paleontologists in the United States. In addition to his many paleontological discoveries, Horner served as the technical advisor for all of the Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park (film)
Jurassic Park is a 1993 American science fiction adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. It stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Martin Ferrero, and Bob Peck...

films, and even served as partial inspiration for one of the lead characters, Dr. Alan Grant.

In Montana during the mid-1970s, Horner and his research partner Bob Makela discovered a colonial nesting site of a new dinosaur genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 which they named Maiasaura, or "Good Mother Lizard". It contained the first dinosaur egg
Dinosaur egg
Dinosaur eggs are represented today as fossils. They represent the product of egg laying activity and can offer clues as to how dinosaurs behaved. In some cases the embryonic dinosaur is preserved within the eggshell, and can be studied....

s in the Western hemisphere, the first dinosaur embryos, and settled questions of whether some dinosaurs were sociable, built nests and cared for their young. The discovery established his career. Horner has named several other species of dinosaur (including Orodromeus
Orodromeus is a genus of herbivorous ornithopod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of North America.-Discovery and naming:...

in memory of his late friend Bob Makela) and has had two named after him: Achelousaurus
Achelousaurus is a genus of centrosaurine ceratopsid dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous Period of what is now North America, dated to 74 million years ago...

and Anasazisaurus
Anasazisaurus is a genus of hadrosaurid ornithopod dinosaur that lived about 74 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous Period. It was found in the Farmington Member of the Kirtland Formation, in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico, United States. Only a partial skull has been found to date...


Within the paleontological community, Horner is best known for his work on the cutting edge of dinosaur growth research. He has published numerous articles in collaboration with Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian
Kevin Padian
Kevin Padian is a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Curator of Paleontology, University of California Museum of Paleontology and President of the National Center for Science Education. Padian's area of interest is in vertebrate evolution, especially the...

, and French dinosaur histologist Armand Ricqlés, on the growth of dinosaurs using growth series. This usually involves leg bones in graduated sizes from different individuals ranging in age from embryos to adults. He also revitalized the contested theory that Tyrannosaurus
Tyrannosaurus meaning "tyrant," and sauros meaning "lizard") is a genus of coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur. The species Tyrannosaurus rex , commonly abbreviated to T. rex, is a fixture in popular culture. It lived throughout what is now western North America, with a much wider range than other...

was an obligate scavenger, rather than a predatory killer. This theory has been adopted by the popular press but has never been a major research focus for Dr. Horner. In 2000, Horner's crews discovered five specimens of T. rex and three more the following summer, including one even larger than the other specimen nicknamed "Sue"
Sue (dinosaur)
"Sue" is the nickname given to FMNH PR 2081, which is the largest, most extensive and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever found. It was discovered in the summer of 1990 by Sue Hendrickson, a paleontologist, and was named after her...

. The specimen was 10–13 tons in weight and was 10% larger than other specimens. The Museum of the Rockies, as the result of continuing fieldwork, now boasts the largest Tyrannosaurus rex collection in the world. Currently, he is working on the developmental biology of dinosaurs.


Horner was born and raised in Shelby
Shelby, Montana
Shelby is a city in and the county seat of Toole County, Montana, United States. The population was 3,216 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Shelby is located at ....

, Montana
Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller, "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name,...

, and attended the University of Montana for seven years, majoring in geology and zoology. He also spent two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 in the Special Forces
Special forces
Special forces, or special operations forces are terms used to describe elite military tactical teams trained to perform high-risk dangerous missions that conventional units cannot perform...

. Horner did not complete his bachelor's degree, due to his inability to pass required foreign language courses (he is somewhat dyslexic and could not read adequately in German). However, he did complete a formidable senior thesis on the fauna of the Bear Gulch Limestone
Bear Gulch Limestone
The Bear Gulch Limestone in Montana is a fossiliferous lagerstätte, a limestone layer laid down in the Mississippian epoch of the Carboniferous period, about 318 mya. This lens of limestone was laid down in a surrounding matrix that indicates a landscape of mudflats and braided channels in fresh...

 in Montana, which is one of the most famous Mississippian lagerstätte
A Lagerstätte is a sedimentary deposit that exhibits extraordinary fossil richness or completeness.Palaeontologists distinguish two kinds....

n (or exceptionally preserved fossil site) in the world. The University of Montana awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 1986. In 1986, he was also awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.

Horner has published more than 100 professional papers, six popular books including Dinosaurs Under the Big Sky; a children's book, Maia: A Dinosaur Grows Up; a non-fiction book on dinosaurs from Montana, Dinosaur Lives; and numerous published articles. He was also a part of the 2005 discovery of soft tissue inside of a T. rex fossil. Currently, he is the Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies
Museum of the Rockies
The Museum of the Rockies, is located in Bozeman, Montana. The museum, originally affiliated with Montana State University in Bozeman, and now, also the Smithsonian Institution, is known for its paleontological collections, although these are not its sole focus...

, the Regent’s Professor of Paleontology, adjunct curator at the National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., United States. Admission is free and the museum is open 364 days a year....

, and teaches with the Honors Program at Montana State University
Montana State University - Bozeman
Montana State University – Bozeman is a public university located in Bozeman, Montana. It is the state's land-grant university and primary campus in the Montana State University System, which is part of the Montana University System...

 in Bozeman, Montana. Over the years he has advised those who have gone on to be the leading paleontologists of a new generation such as Greg Erickson, Scott Sampson, Kristi Curry-Rogers, and David J. Varricchio. Horner was awarded an honorary doctorate by Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania State University
The Pennsylvania State University, commonly referred to as Penn State or PSU, is a public research university with campuses and facilities throughout the state of Pennsylvania, United States. Founded in 1855, the university has a threefold mission of teaching, research, and public service...

 in 2006 in recognition of his work.

In 2003 Horner discovered a fossilized tyrannosaur leg bone from which paleontologist Mary Higby Schweitzer
Mary Higby Schweitzer
Mary Higby Schweitzer is a paleontologist at North Carolina State University known for leading the groups which discovered the remains of blood cells in dinosaur fossils and later discovered soft tissue remains in the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen MOR 1125, as well as evidence that the specimen was a...

 was able to retrieve proteins in 2007.

Build a Dinosaur Project

Horner's 2009 book, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever, describes his plan to recreate a dinosaur by genetically 'nudging' the DNA of a chicken. As of 2011 Horner is pursuing the project to develop the animal, which he describes as a "chickenosaurus", with a team of geneticists.

External links