North Texan finds dinosaurs in our backyards

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on March 17, 2011 at 10:32 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 18 at 3:49 PM

PLANO — Look up and you'll see Gary Byrd on a roof. That's where his work is.

But it's what's underground that fascinates him.

Every free moment, the contractor roams North Texas digging in the dirt.

"When I was a kid, we'd run up and down creeks and look for stuff, and wonder what it was," he said. "I just kept doing it, kept finding more interesting things."

For most of his life, the 55-year-old has scoured construction sites and creek beds for dinosaur bones.

Often, he finds just dirt and rocks. But on occasion, Byrd has unearthed some truly extraordinary finds.

His treasures are enough to fill cabinets at Southern Methodist University.

"This specimen is 89 million years old," he boasted, displaying the rare remains of a pterosaur, an ancient flying reptile that until now, had not been thought to live in Texas.

Byrd plucked the fossilized bones out of a half-built Plano subdivision.

"Finding a fossil of this magnitude is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of find," said SMU researcher Timothy Myers. "A lot of paleontologists would probably go their entire careers without finding something this significant."

And that's not all. Byrd has even discovered a new dinosaur species, a large duck-billed herbivore called Protohadros byrdi — yes, named after Bird himself, who found the remains near a highway.

"That really got me going," he confessed.

The Dallas Museum of Nature and Science routinely displays Byrd's fossils, and its researchers study even his smallest finds.

"To a professional paleontologist, even something that small is important," said Ron Tykoski, the museum's chief fossil preparer. "It helps us say these animals are here ... helps us flesh out that story."

It's the thrill of discovery that drives Gary Byrd, not the money. He donates his fossils to science; he never sells his discoveries.

"Nobody would be able to study it, and I'd just sell it to some rich guy somewhere and put it in his living room and that'd be the end of it," he said.

So Byrd keeps on digging.

"It's all out here laying around; all you have to do is go out and find it," he said.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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