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New Horned Dinosaur Discovered With Wing-Shaped Headgear

June 18, 2014
Image Caption: Artist reconstruction of Mercuriceratops gemini, a new species of horned dinosaur that had wing-like ornamentation on the sides of its skull. Credit: Danielle Dufault

Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

A new horned dinosaur has been discovered and given the name Mercuriceratops gemini. Fossils collected from Montana, United States and Alberta, Canada reveal the new dinosaur was roughly 20 feet long and weighed more than two tons. It roamed the land around 77 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous Period.

Its name means “Mercury horned-face,” referring to a wing-like feature located on the head resembling the wings on the Roman god Mercury‘s helmet. The “gemini” refers to a similar dinosaur specimen found in north central Montana and at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dinosaur Provincial Park, in Alberta, Canada.

“Mercuriceratops took a unique evolutionary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull into protruding wings like the decorative fins on classic 1950s cars. It definitively would have stood out from the herd during the Late Cretaceous. Horned dinosaurs in North America used their elaborate skull ornamentation to identify each other and to attract mates—not just for protection from predators. The wing-like protrusions on the sides of its frill may have offered male Mercuriceratops a competitive advantage in attracting mates,” explained lead author Dr. Michael Ryan from The Cleveland Museum of Natural History in a recent statement.

“The butterfly-shaped frill, or neck shield, of Mercuriceratops is unlike anything we have seen before. Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected,” said co-author Dr. David Evans, from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Skull fragments of the new dinosaur were found in the Judith River Formation of Montana and Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta. Royal Ontario Museum acquired the specimen from Montana and Susan Owen-Kagen from the University of Alberta collected the Alberta specimen.

“Susan showed me her specimen during one of my trips to Alberta. I instantly recognized it as being from the same type of dinosaur that the Royal Ontario Museum had from Montana,” Ryan said.

“The Alberta specimen confirmed that the fossil from Montana was not a pathological specimen, nor had it somehow been distorted during the process of fossilization. The two fossils—squamosal bones from the side of the frill—have all the features you would expect, just presented in a unique shape,” said Dr. Philip Currie, from the University of Alberta.

“This discovery of a previously unknown species in relatively well-studied rocks underscores that we still have many more new species of dinosaurs to left to find,” said co-author Dr. Mark Loewen from the Natural History Museum of Utah.

The researchers’ Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project is designed to fill in the gaps surrounding the Late Cretaceous dinosaurs’ evolution. This is the latest find in new discoveries from the sites in Alberta, Canada and northern Montana.

Research describing the new species is published online in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

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Source: Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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