Liaoceratops, the “Liao Horned Face”, is a newly discovered dinosaur that lived in the early Cretaceous period some 130 million years ago. It was discovered by a team of American and Chinese scientists in China. It is believed to be an early ancestor of the horned ceratopsians. It was discovered in the famous Liaoning Province of China, where several feathered dinosaurs have also been discovered. The type species is L. yanzigouensis.
Liaoceratops is a small dinosaur weighing fewer than eight pounds. It lacks the horns of later ceratopsian specimens. Only traces of horns and frills are found in this specimen. However, the Liaoceratops gives scientists a look into how horned dinosaurs may have evolved. They believe the ceratopsian lineage split into two branches at some point beyond this time. The neoceratopsian specimens evolved to have horns, while the branch psittacosaurids didn’t. This specimen is actually more interesting to scientists than other more well-known dinosaurs as it, among other basal dinosaurs, are critical in how dinosaurs may have evolved.
The Liaoceratops may also help scientists understand the roles that horns and frills played in ceratopsian dinosaurs. They were first believed to be offensive or defensive organs, but many paleontologists now believe they were meant to be display devices in attracting mates and for species recognition. The Liaoceratops did have small horns that protruded sideways under each of its eyes, however, they were small and light and had no purpose in defense.