Rare juvenile T. rex fossil found by children in North Dakota to go on display

A rare juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex fossil found by three children during a family hike in the North Dakota Badlands will soon be on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the museum said Tuesday.

The unlikely discovery was made in July 2022 by brothers Jessin and Liam Fisher, their father Sam Fisher, and their cousin, Kaiden Madsen. Unsure of what his family had just stumbled upon, Sam reached out to an old high school friend, paleontologist Tyler Lyson, for help.

After obtaining an excavation permit from the Bureau of Land Management — which manages the land where the discovery was made — Lyson, the museum’s curator of paleontology, went out to North Dakota in 2023 with a crew and the children to excavate the fossil. 

Rare juvenile T. rex fossil found by children in North Dakota to go on display in Denver museum
A family found a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex fossil in North Dakota’s Badlands in 2022. (clockwise from upper left) Sam Fisher, Emalynn Fisher, Danielle Fisher, Liam Fisher, Kaiden Madsen, and Jessin Fisher, pose with the field jacket after it was rolled into a helicopter net. Undated photo. 

Tyler Lyson

When he went into the project, Lyson thought the dino may have been something more ordinary, he said in a video interview posted by the museum. However, when he uncovered the most diagnostic part of the fossil, the teeth, he said he knew the “trio of young fossil hunters” had found something really special.

“When we told everyone, the euphoria was amazing; just a remarkable, remarkable moment,” Lyson said. “I mean, it’s not every day that you find such an amazing dinosaur.” 

Juvenile T. rex fossils are not an everyday find. This one, dubbed by the museum as the “Teen Rex,” is one of just four young T. rex fossils that have been found on Earth, Lyson said.

Rare juvenile T. rex fossil found by children in North Dakota to go on display in Denver museum
Chief fossil preparator Natalie Toth moves an Edmontosaurus annectens skull into its final place in the “Discovering Teen Rex” experience at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. May 2024. 

Rick Wicker

“When you’re in a national park, you see deer and elk and moose, but you don’t see the mountain lions or the wolves,” Lyson said. “You don’t see those apex predators, because there just aren’t as many of them. So to find a T. rex at all, and to find one this complete, is truly special.”

While they haven’t completed the histology yet, Lyson said the dinosaur is estimated to have been between 12 and 14 years old. Lyson said it would have weighed about half as much as some of the most famous T. rex specimens.

Jessin, an aspiring paleontologist, told the museum he’s pretty pleased with his find — hoping it leads him down a path like Lyson — something the experienced vertebrate paleontologist is encouraging.

Rare juvenile T. rex fossil found by children in North Dakota to go on display in Denver museum
The area in North Dakota’s Badlands where three young children found a juvenile T-Rex skeleton in 2022. The skeleton was taken to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Undated photo. 

Rick Wicker

“This is a big deal because of the story of discovery. It’s just an amazing, heartwarming story, where you have three kids out looking for fossils in the Badlands of North Dakota, and discovering the king of all, Tyrannosaurus rex,” Lyson said in his museum video. 

The fossil will be on display starting June 21 in a temporary museum exhibit called “Discovering Teen Rex.” A documentary sharing the story of the boys’ discovery will also be shown at the museum’s Infinity Theater.

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