Jack Horner (paleontologist)

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Jack Horner
Horner in 2015
Born (1946-06-15) June 15, 1946 (age 76)
CitizenshipUnited States
AwardsRomer–Simpson Medal (2013)
Scientific career
InstitutionsChapman University, Horner Science Group

John Robert (‘Jack’) Horner (born June 15, 1946) is an American paleontologist most famous for describing Maiasaura, providing the first clear evidence that some dinosaurs cared for their young. In addition to his paleontological discoveries, Horner served as the technical advisor for the first five Jurassic Park films,[1] had a cameo appearance in Jurassic World,[2] and served as a partial inspiration for one of the lead characters of the franchise, Dr. Alan Grant.[3][4] Horner studied at the University of Montana, although he did not complete his degree due to undiagnosed dyslexia, and was awarded a Doctorate in Science honoris causa. He retired from Montana State University on July 1, 2016, although he claims to have been pushed out of the Museum of the Rockies after having married an undergraduate student[5][6] and now teaches as a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University.


Horner was born and raised near Shelby, Montana. He was eight years old when he found his first dinosaur bone.[7] He 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 in Vietnam during the Vietnam War in a reconnaissance unit.[citation needed] Horner did not complete his bachelor's degree due to severe dyslexia.[8] However, he did complete a senior thesis on the fauna of the Bear Gulch Limestone, one of the most famous Mississippian lagerstätten (exceptionally preserved fossil sites) in the world, located in Montana. The University of Montana awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 1986. Also in 1986 he was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.[9] In 1993, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[10]

Reconstructed cast by Horner of a Maiasaura emerging from its egg

In Montana during the mid-1970s, Horner and his research partner Bob Makela discovered a colonial nesting site of a new dinosaur genus which they named Maiasaura, or "Good Mother Lizard". The dinosaur bones, originating from a juvenile, were first discovered[11] by Marion Brandvold. Horner then studied the bones, and at first, there was a refusal to return the bones to Brandvold.[12][13] It contained the first dinosaur eggs 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 Horner's career. He has named several other species of dinosaur (including Orodromeus makelai, in memory of his late friend Bob Makela) and has had three named after himself: Achelousaurus horneri, Anasazisaurus horneri, and Daspletosaurus horneri.[14]

Within the paleontological community, Horner is best known for his work on dinosaur growth research. He has published numerous articles in collaboration with Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian, and French dinosaur histologist Armand de Ricqlès, 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. Horner also revitalized the contested theory that Tyrannosaurus rex was an obligate scavenger, rather than a predatory killer. While this theory has been widely discussed by the popular press, it has never been a major research focus for Horner. He claimed that he never published the scavenger hypothesis in the peer reviewed scientific literature, stating that it was mainly a tool for him to teach a popular audience, particularly children, of the dangers of making assumptions in science (such as assuming T. rex was a hunter) without using evidence.[15] In 2000, teams led by Horner discovered five specimens of T. rex and three more the following summer, including one larger than the specimen nicknamed "Sue". The new fossil was 10–13 tons in weight and 10% larger than other specimens.[3] The Museum of the Rockies, as the result of continuing fieldwork, now exhibits the largest Tyrannosaurus rex collection in the world. Currently, Horner is working on the developmental biology of dinosaurs.[16]

Horner has published over 100 professional papers, eight books including Dinosaurs Under the Big Sky;[17] a children's book, Maia: A Dinosaur Grows Up;[18] a non-fiction book on dinosaurs from Montana, Dinosaur Lives;[19] and numerous articles. He was also a part of a 2005 discovery of soft tissue in a T. rex fossil. Horner was the Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, the Regent's Professor of Paleontology, adjunct curator at the National Museum of Natural History, and taught at the Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Over the years he has advised people who have gone on to be leading experts in paleontology, such as Mary Higby Schweitzer, Greg Erickson, Kristi Curry-Rogers, and David J. Varricchio. Horner was awarded an honorary doctorate by Pennsylvania State University in 2006 in recognition of his work.

In 2003, Horner discovered a fossilized tyrannosaur leg bone from which paleontologist Mary Higby Schweitzer was able to retrieve proteins in 2007.[20]

In 2009, the National Geographic released a documentary entitled "Dinosaurs Decoded", which reviews Horner's research into juvenile dinosaurs. He suggests that juvenile dinosaurs looked sufficiently different from adults, and that they have sometimes been mistaken for separate species. The program examines specific changes that occurred as dinosaurs aged and speculates on why the changes were necessary. Horner's research on the topic has gone as far as eliminating several "sub-species" of Triceratops, Pachycephalosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus. Horner also believes that if his research were to continue as much as a third of known dinosaurs would be classified under an existing species.[21]

In Las Vegas on January 15, 2012, 65-year-old Horner married Vanessa Weaver, a 19-year-old Montana State University undergraduate paleontology student and volunteer in his lab. The couple had divorced by August 2016, but remained friends.[5][6]

On November 2, 2013, Horner was awarded the Romer–Simpson Prize, the highest honor a paleontologist can receive from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.[22]

On his retirement from Montana State University on July 1, 2016, the MacMillan Foundation honored Horner for his work with a $3 million endowment for the John R. Horner Curator of Paleontology Chair for the Museum of the Rockies/ Montana State University - funding the work of his Paleontology successors in perpetuity.[23]

In popular culture, Horner is the subject of the children's book, Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! written by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Dave Shephard, and [24] [25] published by Sleeping Bear Press. The book, which has been translated into French, [26] chronicles the life of Horner, from a child in Montana to an adult on the set of Jurassic Park, and discusses Horner's scientific contributions as well as navigating life with a reading disability.

Build a Dinosaur Project[edit]

Horner with a bird skeleton at an event in the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano.

Horner's 2009 book, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever,[27] describes his plan to recreate a dinosaur by genetically "nudging" the DNA of a chicken.[28] Horner's idea for the project came from an early script for the film Jurassic World.[29] He had been planning the book as early as June 2005;[30] it was originally planned to be released simultaneously with Jurassic World as a scientific companion volume.[31]

By 2011, Horner is pursuing the project to develop the animal, which he describes as a "chickenosaurus", with a team of geneticists.[32][33][34] By November 2014, Horner and his team had conducted some of the earliest research into the embryonic development of tails. Such research may ultimately lead to new treatments for people with spinal disorders. Research into the mesenchyme tissue of chicken embryos, which direct the growth of teeth, may also aid in the treatment of human sarcomas. George Lucas had funded most of the project's costs up to that point, while an additional $5 million was needed. Horner expected to have a living dinosaur within 10 years.[35]

In 2015, an independent group of scientists reported that they had found a way to turn the beaks of chicken embryos back into dinosaur-like snouts, by reverse genetic engineering,[36] and University of Chile geneticists have produced embryos with dinosaur-like leg and foot anatomy including the fibula full-length and reaching the ankle.[37][38]


  1. ^ "Sloan Science & Film". scienceandfilm.org. Retrieved 2016-06-14.
  2. ^ Dyce, Andrew (June 13, 2015). "'Jurassic World' Easter Eggs, Trivia & 'Jurassic Park' References". Screenrant. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Sogard, Melissa (2007). "John R. "Jack" Horner, Paleontologist". Fact Monster Database. Pearson Education, Inc. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  4. ^ Kutner, Max (December 2, 2014). "The Scientist Behind "Jurassic World", Jack Horner, Breaks Down the Movie's Thrilling Trailer". Smithsonian. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Jack Horner Says He Was Let Go for Marrying 19-Year-Old Student". PEOPLE.com. 29 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b Carter, Troy. "Famed paleontologist Horner says he was pushed out of museum, Krauss questions leadership". Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
  7. ^ Gray, Veronique (2012-04-09). "A talk with paleontologist Jack Horner". Vivamost.com. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  8. ^ Horner, John R. (2004). "Jack Horner: An Intellectual Autobiography". The Montana Professor. 14 (2). Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  9. ^ Tribune Staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: Jack Horner". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  10. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  11. ^ "Baby dino bones finally back in state". The Billings Gazette.
  12. ^ Missoulian, DARYL GADBOW of the. "Dino hunter". missoulian.com.
  13. ^ Writer, SCOTT McMILLION Chronicle Staff. "Missing bones". Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
  14. ^ Carr, Thomas D.; Varricchio, David J.; Sedlmayr, Jayc C.; Roberts, Eric M.; Moore, Jason R. (2017). "A new tyrannosaur with evidence for anagenesis and crocodile-like facial sensory system". Scientific Reports. 7: 44942. Bibcode:2017NatSR...744942C. doi:10.1038/srep44942. PMC 5372470. PMID 28358353.
  15. ^ Novella, S. "Interview with Jack Horner." The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. 14-OCT-2011. Accessed 24-OCT-2011, http://media.libsyn.com/media/skepticsguide/skepticast2009-10-14.mp3
  16. ^ Hayes, Jacqui (September 20, 2006). "Large flock of parrot-like dinosaurs uncovered". Cosmos Online. Archived from the original on April 7, 2011. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  17. ^ Horner, John R. (2001). Dinosaurs under the Big Sky. Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0-87842-445-0. OCLC 47238733.
  18. ^ Horner, John R.; Gorman, James; Henderson, Doug; Blumer, Terrance L. (1998). Maia: a dinosaur grows up. Bozeman, Mont.: Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University. ISBN 978-0-933819-02-3. OCLC 41846988.
  19. ^ Horner, John R.; Dobb, Edwin (1997). Dinosaur lives: unearthing an evolutionary saga. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-017486-6. OCLC 36543406.
  20. ^ Wilfor, John Noble (April 12, 2007). "Scientists Retrieve Proteins From Dinosaur Bone". New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  21. ^ Levitt, Dan. Dinosaurs Decoded. National Geographic. 11 Oct. 2009. Television.
  22. ^ "Horner wins lifetime achievement award from Society of Vertebrate Paleontology".
  23. ^ "Retiring Jack Horner celebrated at Museum of the Rockies". Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
  24. ^ "Sleeping Bear Press Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter!". Sleeping Bear Press, Cherry Lake Publishing Group.
  25. ^ "Cover Reveal: Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter!". The Tiny Activist. April 18, 2021.
  26. ^ "TuttiStori Editions". TuttiStori-Editions.
  27. ^ Horner, John R.; Gorman, James (2009). How to build a dinosaur: extinction doesn't have to be forever. New York: Dutton. ISBN 978-0-525-95104-9. OCLC 233549535.
  28. ^ Press, Michelle (June 12, 2009). "Scientific American reviews: How to Build a Bird". Scientific American. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  29. ^ Collins, Nick (October 25, 2011). "The Jurassic Park scientist who plans to turn a chicken into T Rex". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  30. ^ Horner, John R.; Gorman, James (2010). How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution (2010 Plume ed.). New York: Plume. pp. 193–194. ISBN 978-0525951049. OCLC 233549535. Let's use the ivory-billed woodpecker as an example. […] it is generally thought to have gone extinct […] although there have been many claims of sightings, including one that was published in Science on June 3, 2005. Earlier that spring […] I was planning this book with my coauthor, Jim Gorman […].
  31. ^ Switek, Brian (October 25, 2011). "Why Do We Keep Going Back to Jurassic Park?". Smithsonian magazine. Archived from the original on September 24, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  32. ^ Zetter, Kim (March 4, 2011). "Ted 2011:Hatching Dinosaurs, One Egg at a Time". Wired.com. Retrieved March 4, 2011.
  33. ^ Horner, Jack (June 12, 2011). "Why we're creating a 'chickenosaurus'". CNN.
  34. ^ March 2011, Jack Horner, Building a Dinosaur from a Chicken
  35. ^ Landers, Jackson (November 10, 2014). "Paleontologist Jack Horner is hard at work trying to turn a chicken into a dinosaur". The Washington Times. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  36. ^ Bhullar, Bhart-Anjan S.; Morris, Zachary S.; Sefton, Elizabeth M.; Tok, Atalay; Tokita, Masayoshi; Namkoong, Bumjin; Camacho, Jasmin; Burnham, David A.; Abzhanov, Arhat (2015). "A molecular mechanism for the origin of a key evolutionary innovation, the bird beak and palate, revealed by an integrative approach to major transitions in vertebrate history". Evolution. 69 (7): 1665–1677. doi:10.1111/evo.12684. ISSN 1558-5646. PMID 25964090. S2CID 205124061.
  37. ^ Botelho, João Francisco; Smith-Paredes, Daniel; Soto-Acuña, Sergio; Mpodozis, Jorge; Palma, Verónica; Vargas, Alexander O. (14 May 2015). "Skeletal plasticity in response to embryonic muscular activity underlies the development and evolution of the perching digit of birds". Scientific Reports. 5: 9840. Bibcode:2015NatSR...5E9840F. doi:10.1038/srep09840. PMC 4431314. PMID 25974685.
  38. ^ Botelho, João Francisco; Smith-Paredes, Daniel; Soto-Acuña, Sergio; O'Connor, Jingmai; Palma, Verónica; Vargas, Alexander O. (4 March 2016). "Molecular development of fibular reduction in birds and its evolution from dinosaurs". Evolution. 70 (3): 543–554. doi:10.1111/evo.12882. PMC 5069580. PMID 26888088.

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