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Paleontologists describe dinosaur that's a cousin of triceratops

November 08, 2012|By Karen Kaplan | Los Angeles Times
  • An artist's rendering of Xenoceratops foremostensis, the oldest horned dinosaur found in Canada.
An artist's rendering of Xenoceratops foremostensis, the oldest… (Julius T. Csotonyi /Cleveland…)

Paleontologists have identified a new relative of the popular dinosaur triceratops that lived millions of years earlier in what is now southern Alberta, Canada.

The creature – Xenoceratops foremostensis – had a large “frill” at the back of its skull, similar to triceratops. But that frill was studded with stubby horns along the edges and two long spikes at the top. Another pair of spikes grew just above the eyes.

The rest of Xenoceratops’ body resembled triceratops as well, with four stout legs, a generous torso and tail. Its mouth resembled the beak of an oversized parrot.

These creatures measured about 20 feet from beak to tail, and despite eating nothing but plants, they weighed more than 2 tons, according to a report released Thursday by the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

The specimens that led to this discovery were actually dug up in 1958 by Wann Langston Jr., who found them about 4 miles from the Village of Foremost, north of Montana. The bones had been embedded in a “soft gray-brown slightly carbonaceous shale bed,” according to the report. Then they were transferred to Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, where two other scientists – Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and David Evans, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum’s Department of Natural History – came upon them more than 10 years ago.

Ryan and Evans, two of the authors of the new report, determined that the bones were from three individuals of a previously undescribed species. In painstaking detail, they and colleague Kieran Shepherd, curator of paleobiology at the Canadian Museum of Nature, detailed its physical appearance and relationship to other known horned dinosaurs. The trio concluded that Xenoceratops lived about 78 million years ago, making it the oldest horned dinosaur to be discovered in Canada.

Xenoceratops shows us that even the geologically oldest ceratopsids had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved,” Ryan said in a statement.

The name Xenoceratops is a combination of “xeno,” which means alien, and “ceratops,” which means horned face; foremostensis is a shout-out to the Village of Foremost.

You can read all about the new dinosaur online here.

Return to the Science Now blog.

Follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan

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