Saturday, July 16, 2016

Devil's Coulee

Trip Date: July 2016

The Devil's Coulee Dinosaur & Heritage Museum is located in the village of Warner; approximately 280km southeast of Calgary. Devil's Coulee is an important paleontological site as it's Canada's first, and largest, dinosaur nesting site. The coulee was originally called Fossil Coulee but the name was changed when local ranchers started referring to it as Devil's Coulee because the three valleys that makeup the coulee resemble a devil's trident when viewed from the air. In 1987, after a tip from local woman Wendy Sloboda, paleontologists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum arrived and made an exciting discovery; a tiny embryonic femur and fragments of eggshells. Kevin Aulenback, a Tyrrell Technician, followed the trail of eggshell fragments, which eventually lead to a small batch of fossilized dinosaur eggs on what is now known as Little Diablo's Hill. Since that initial find various species of dinosaur eggshells have been found, as well as embryonic skeletons, and sub-adult bones.

Welcome to Devil's Coulee Dinosaur & Heritage Museum
The outside of the museum in the village of Warner
The museum tells the story of this important fossil site and showcases several specimens that have been found over the years, including the museum's crown-jewel, Charlie! Charlie is the most complete embryonic dinosaur ever found in North America. Charlie is a duckbill Hadrosaurus dinosaur belonging to the Hypacrosaurus stebingeri species. Charlie has allowed researchers to unlock additional evidence about some of the Hadrosaur species that resided in southern Alberta, such as their egg size (approximately the size of a volleyball), length prior to hatching (approximately 45cm or 18in), and whether their parents played a role in raising them. The current theory is that after laying their eggs the mothers abandoned the nest. Charlie is equipped with a mouthful of teeth meaning he wouldn't have needed his mother to chew/provide food for him and the absence of adult fossilized bones near the nest site leads paleontologists to believe that baby dinosaurs were left to fend for themselves.

Inside the Devil's Coulee Museum
Devil's Coulee was once near the shoreline of an ancient inland sea meaning fossils of marine life such as fish, clams, turtles, and Ammonites (above) have all been found in addition to dinosaurs
An example of what a Hadrosaur nest may have looked like
This is an example of a Troodon nest, another species that has been found in Devil's Coulee
This is what Charlie may have looked like prior to being reassembled by paleontologists
Charlie, the gem of the museum
This is how he would have been positioned inside his volleyball-sized egg. You can even see his teeth!
In addition to the museum tour I also opted for the site tour, meaning I would get a chance to visit Devil's Coulee and see where the nests were found. Devil's Coulee is closed to the public unless you're accompanied by a guide from the museum. The Royal Tyrrell is still actively conducting research in Devil's Coulee so guides are required to prevent disturbances to the site.

Devil's Coulee
The original marker left by the Royal Tyrrell Museum back in 1987 when they first started operating at this site 
Hoodoos perched on a hill above the coulee
Seventy-five million years ago the climate around Devil's Coulee was much warmer, closer to that of Florida or Louisana today. Many animals were present in what is now southern Alberta and some of them, such as Hadrosaurs, were ground-nesting species. These animals would lay their eggs in floodplains and when easterly flowing rivers flooded the nests were covered in layers of sand and mud, suffocating any embryos within the eggs, but also protecting the eggs from being destroyed. Over the years these nests were covered in additional layers of sediment and through various geological processes were eventually fossilized. Thousands of years later new rivers eroded these layers exposing the ancient nest sites within.

Examples of eggs found in Devil's Coulee as compared with birds and reptiles of today
Devil's Coulee also contains a bountiful micro-fossil site. All of the items in the photo above were uncovered in the coulee and they're still finding countless others all the time.
This is the fossilized remains of an adult Ilium bone. This is the only adult specimen ever found in Devil's Coulee, which leads researchers to believe that the animal died here coincidentally and wasn't actively taking care of its young.
More Hoodoos
Both the museum and site tours were fantastic. My tour guide Holden did an outstanding job of explaining the history of the site and what its means to the world of paleontology. His passion for the subject area was truly infectious! I don't know if it was the day (Wednesday morning) or the weather (continual threat of rain), but I was the only member on both tours, which was actually really enjoyable. It allowed me to ask all the questions I had and kept the tour moving at a good pace. I'm really glad I took the drive down to Warner to visit the museum and I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in dinosaurs and their history in Alberta. If you find yourself in the southern part of the province, maybe on your way to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, it's worth stopping for a visit!

I spotted this Red-Tailed Hawk just after leaving Devil's Coulee
He must not have liked his picture being taken as he didn't stick around very long!
If you're interested in reading more about dinosaurs and fossils in Alberta please refer to my previous blog posts titled, Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park, and Guided Excavation. You can also read the two stories I wrote for the Calgary Guardian called Breaking Bad(lands) and Jurassic Province.


  1. Sounds like a place worth visiting

    1. If you're a dinosaur fan than most definitely! Thanks for stopping by the blog. I appreciate the comment!