RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Among all the gigantic life that once roamed the Earth, the duckbilled dinosaur is one of the most familiar to us.

But, the Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus also among the most evasive.

Parasaurolophus (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The closest thing to a skull of the rare species of Parasaurolophus was found in 1921.

However, it wasn’t intact.

North Carolina State University paleontologist Bucky Gates has spent 20 years trying to find a better sample.

“I was stymied because I was unable to get any more data from the original specimen collected in 1921 and honestly I never thought I would be able to do it because we had to have a perfect specimen,” said Gates.

His team has finally done that in the New Mexico desert.

It’s not just better – it’s a fully intact skull in pristine condition including the duckbill.

“Whenever the specimen was placed down right in front of me I looked at it and honestly I could hardly breath,” Gates said.

While Gates caught his breath, it was as if the young dinosaur did, too.

“I could just start looking into the eyes of this thing and imagining it. I was putting layers of flesh on it, putting skin on it, imagining air-breathing in and out of the tubes because I’ve spent so long of my life imagining how these dinosaurs lived,” he said.

P. cyrtocristatus skull. Image: Terry Gates

Seventy-five million years ago, the New Mexico desert looked a lot like the coast of North Carolina, including swamps with plenty for the vegetarian to eat.

The parasaurolophus could grow to around 30-feet long.

Gates hopes now he can find the answers to what he’s wondered most of his life.

“We can start to understand a little bit better how this really unique structure changes over time and what was required for these duckbilled dinosaurs to have this feature.”

It should also give scientists a better understanding of what it was used for.

With 99.9 percent of species extinct on the planet, this one-of-a-kind find is remarkable.

“Just to imagine that anything can survive the fossil record and to think some of them have been preserved for us to find is truly miraculous.”