July 17, 2013
New Dino Is Triceratops’ Massive Cousin
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Paleontologist say they have discovered the fossil of a massive new relative of Triceratops in Utah. The 2-ton, 15-foot long Nasutoceratops titusi had the familiar bony frill at the base of its skull, an oversized nose and horns that curved out and forward like a steer's, according to a report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Paleontologists who were involved in the discovery said they weren't sure what function the dinosaur's large nose served.
"The jumbo-sized schnoz of Nasutoceratops likely had nothing to do with a heightened sense of smell, since olfactory receptors occur further back in the head, adjacent to the brain," Scott Sampson of the University of Utah told the AFP. "The function of this bizarre feature remains uncertain."
Sampson's colleague at the university Mark Loewen, said the animal's horns "were most likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn't enough, as weapons for combatting rivals."
Its almost complete skull found in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Nasutoceratops lived with many other large dinosaurs on an island continent called Laramidia that existed millions of years ago when North America was split by a warm, shallow sea. The other half of North America has been dubbed Appalachia in the 17-year-old theory.
The Utah researchers said many more new species could still be found in their state's national park.
"Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the last great, largely unexplored dinosaur boneyard in the lower 48 states," Sampson said.
Most Laramidian dinosaurs that have been found so far were concentrated in a thin belt of plains located between the shallow sea to the east and a mountainous region to the west. Over the past century, dig sites on the former island have spanned from Alaska to Mexico.
In the 1960's paleontologists began to find that similar major groups of dinosaurs were spread over this Late Cretaceous continent, but different species within groups occurred in what is present day Alberta and Montana than those in modern New Mexico and Texas. The relative size of the animals combined with the continent's small size has remained something of a mystery.
Nasutoceratops and other ceratopses shared the 'lost continent,' which was about the size of Australia, with tyrannosaurs, hadrosaurs and many others. The number of giant species living on Laramidia would probably have been staggering since Africa is home to only five similarly sized species, such as rhinoceroses and elephants.
"We're still working to figure out how so many different kinds of giant animals managed to co-exist on such a small landmass," noted Loewen.
Over the past decade, workers from the Natural History Museum of Utah, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and several other institutions have found more than a dozen dinosaurs in Utah's national park. In addition to Nasutoceratops, the researchers have found many other plant-eating dinosaurs, including two other horned dinosaurs, Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops.
Non-dinosaur finds include fossilized plants, insects, amphibians, lizards and mammals. Paleontologists said they are using these fossils to paint a comprehensive picture of life in the ancient North American ecosystem.