Canadian researchers discover new dinosaur species
Published Thursday, November 8, 2012 10:58AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 10:22PM EST
What’s 20 feet long and has a parrot-like beak; two long horns, spikes coming from the back of its skull and weighs more than two tonnes?
Answer: a Xenoceratops, Canada’s newest horned dinosaur.
The plant-eating Xenoceratops (Zee-NO-Sare-ah-tops) which means ‘alien horned face,’ is published in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.
According to researchers, the discovery was made in Southern Alberta, near the Village of Foremost, about four hours outside of Calgary.
“The Xenoceratops is the most primitive dinosaur (of the ceratopsids) we have found in Canada,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, co-ordinator of research, curator and head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
He said the Xenoceratops is one of the oldest forms of horned dinosaurs, the discovery of which gives researchers an idea of how the species evolved.
“Starting 80 million years ago, the large-bodied horned dinosaurs in North America underwent an evolutionary explosion,” he said.
Co-author of the study, Dr. David Evans, of the Royal Ontario Museum, said the shapes of the horns defined the dinosaurs.
“The horns were used as a form of advertising to members of their species that they were of mating age and ready to compete for mates,” said Dr. Evans.
He said with little information about horned dinosaurs this discovery highlights the origin of this particular group.
“It gives us additional information on the diversity of herbivores that is right at the base of their family tree,” said Dr. Evans.
Dr. Ryan said finding the bones was a collaborative effort spanning over 50 years.
He said fragments of the skull were first found by Dr. Wann Langston Jr. who made the discovery in 1958.
According to Dr. Evans, Dr. Langston was busy working on another project at the time, but collected the material knowing it was significant.
In 2005, the researchers said they discovered the bones in a 50 year-old clay field jacket being stored in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.
Dr. Evans said they brought the bones to the Royal Ontario Museum; there they were able to assemble a frill at the back of the skull from what they collected.
“We were able to piece together a frill, telling us that this was a new species,” said Dr. Evans.
Dr. Ryan said the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project aims to discover as much as possible about rocks 80 million years old and how some of the iconic dinosaurs came to be.
“The study fills an important gap missing from records,” said he said.
Dr. Evans said the project has made significant leaps forward in uncovering new species with a lot more information about the large-bodied horn family to come.