North America's Oldest, Smallest Horn Dinosaur Species Finally Named
March 17, 2012

North America’s Oldest, Smallest Horn Dinosaur Species Finally Named

Two dinosaur species discovered in the Canadian province of Alberta, including the oldest and smallest horned species ever found in North America, have finally been named after decades of research, various media outlets reported earlier this week.

According to Emily Chung of CBC News, the first dinosaur, which is approximately the same size as "a medium-sized dog," was named Gryphoceratops morrisoni in honor of Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) technician Ian Morrison.

Morrison reportedly was able to assemble the dinosaur's jaw from fossil fragments in about an hour -- a task that museum curator David Evans and Michael Ryan, his counterpart at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, failed to complete in eight years, Chung said.

The other species, Unescopceratops koppelhusae, comes from the same family as Gryphoceratops morrisoni and was named after University of Alberta biologist Eva Koppelhus.

Evans told the CBC that Koppelhus, who was not involved in the discovery of this particular fossil, nonetheless has helped figure out the ages of other dinosaur remains using her knowledge of plant spores and pollen. He also called her a mentor to many up-and-coming paleontologists, including himself.

LiveScience writer Jennifer Welsh describes G. morrisoni as a 1.6-foot long horned dinosaur that lived approximately 83 million years ago, and U. koppelhusae as a 6.5-foot, less than 200-pound specimen that lived in Alberta some 75 million years ago.

The former dinosaur was first discovered in 1950 and the latter in 1995, she added, but neither had been officially named until recently. Both specimens were described in a paper published in the journal Cretaceous Research back in January of this year.

"These dinosaurs fill important gaps in the evolutionary history of small-bodied horned dinosaurs that lack the large horns and frills of relatives like Triceratops from North America," Ryan said in a statement, according to Welsh. "Although horned dinosaurs originated in Asia, our analysis suggests that leptoceratopsids [which includes these horned dinosaurs] radiated to North America and diversified here, since the new species, Gryphoceratops, is the earliest record of the group on this continent."

"Small-bodied dinosaurs are typically poorly represented in the fossil record, which is why fragmentary remains like these new leptoceratopsids can make a big contribution to our understanding of dinosaur ecology and evolution," Evans added, according to the LiveScience report, which was published Tuesday.


Image Caption: An illustration of Unescoceratops koppelhusae, a plant-eating dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period that lived approximately 75 million years ago. © Julius T. Csotonyi [ More Images ]