Researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have identified an unusual new species of dinosaur that had an elaborately-adorned skull and distinctive forward-curling hook-like horns along its wide, shield-like frill.
The creature, which is described in the latest edition of the journal PLOS One, has been named Wendiceratops pinhornensis or “Wendy’s horned-face” in honor of Wendy Sloboda, a Canadian fossil hunter who originally discovered the site where the fossils were located in 2010.
Wendiceratops pinhornensis was a 20-foot (six meter) long dinosaur that weighed more than a ton. It lived approximately 79 million years ago, making it one of the oldest known members of the horned-dinosaur family of which the Triceratops is a member, the Ceratopsidae.
More than 200 bones representing the remains of at least three adults and one juvenile member of the species were discovered in a bonebed in the Oldman Formation of southern Alberta, near the province’s border with Montana. The new dinosaur was an herbivore which would consume low-lying plants using its parrot-like beak and leaf-shaped teeth, the authors said.
Earliest documented tall nose horn in this dinosaur family
According to Discovery News, study co-author Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto said in a statement that Wendiceratops “helps us understand the early evolution of skull ornamentation” in this “iconic group” of horned-face dinosaurs.
“The wide frill of Wendiceratops is ringed by numerous curled horns, the nose had a large, upright horn, and it’s likely there were horns over the eyes too,” he added. “The number of gnarly frill projections and horns makes it one of the most striking horned dinosaurs ever found.”
Based on the fossils Dr. Evans and his colleague, Dr. Michael Ryan, the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum, discovered, they reported that the fragmented nature of the remains make it difficult to tell the complete shape of the dinosaur’s nasal bone. However, they could tell that it supported supported a prominent, upright nasal horncore.
The discovery marks the earliest documented occurrence of a tall nose horn in a member of this dinosaur family, they added. This reveals when this particular feature evolved, and that the large conical nasal horn evolved at least twice in the horned dinosaur family (once in the short-frilled group that includes Wendiceratops, and again in the long-frilled one that includes Triceratops).
“Wendiceratops has a unique horn ornamentation above its nose that shows the intermediate evolutionary development between low, rounded forms of the earliest horned dinosaurs and the large, tall horns of Styracosaurus, and its relatives. The locked horns of two Wendiceratops could have been used in combat between males to gain access to territory or females,” said Dr. Ryan.