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Bizarre dinos found

Sept. 22, 2010
Courtesy of the University of Utah 
and World Science staff

Two bi­zarre new di­no­saurs—one with a stu­pen­dously mul­ti­-horned face and an­oth­er likened to a gi­ant rhi­no with an ab­surdly large head­—have turned up in south­ern Utah, sci­en­tists say.

The gi­ant plant-eaters lived in what was then a “lost con­ti­nent” called Laramidia, ac­cord­ing to re­search­ers. This land mass formed when a shal­low sea flood­ed the cen­tral re­gion of North Amer­i­ca, iso­lat­ing the east­ern and west­ern parts of the con­ti­nent for mil­lions of years late in the di­no­saur era.

Sketches of the skeletons of the new­found di­no­saurs. (Ut­ah Mu­se­um of Na­tur­al His­tory)


The new­found fos­sils, close rel­a­tives of the fa­mous Trice­ra­tops, were de­scribed Sept. 22 in the re­search jour­nal PLoS One.

The big­ger of the new di­no­saurs, with a skull 2.3 me­ters (a­bout 7 feet) long, was giv­en the sci­en­tif­ic name Utahce­ra­tops get­tyi. The first part of the name com­bines the state of or­i­gin with ce­ra­tops, Greek for “horned face.” The sec­ond part of the name hon­ors Mike Get­ty, pa­le­on­tol­ogy col­lec­tions man­ag­er at the Utah Mu­se­um of Nat­u­ral His­to­ry, cred­ited with dis­cov­er­ing the an­i­mal.

Utahce­ra­tops sported a large horn over the nose along with short, blunt eye horns pro­ject­ing strongly side­ways rath­er than up­ward, much more like mod­ern bi­son than like Trice­ra­tops or its oth­er rel­a­tives. The an­i­mal would have looked like “a gi­ant rhi­no with a ri­dic­u­lously su­per­sized head,” said Mark Loewen of the Utah Mu­se­um of Nat­u­ral His­to­ry, an au­thor of the re­port.

The sec­ond newly iden­ti­fied spe­cies is Kos­moce­ra­tops ri­chard­soni. He­re, the first part of the name refers to kos­mos, Lat­in for “or­nate,” and ce­ra­tops, once again mean­ing “horned face.” The lat­ter part of the name hon­ors Scott Rich­ard­son, a vol­un­teer re­ported to have disco­vered two skulls of the rep­tile. 

Kosmoce­ra­tops al­so has side­ways eye horns, al­though much long­er and pointier than in Utahce­ra­tops. In all, Kosmoce­ra­tops had 15 horn­s—one over the nose, one atop each eye, one at the tip of each cheek bone, and ten across the rear mar­gin of the bony frill—mak­ing it the most ornate-headed di­no­saur known, re­search­ers sakd.

“Kosmoce­ra­tops is one of the most amaz­ing an­i­mals known, with a huge skull dec­o­rat­ed with an as­sort­ment of bony bells and whistles,” said the mu­se­um’s Scott Samp­son, the pa­per’s lead au­thor.

“Most of these bi­zarre fea­tures would have made lousy weapons to fend off preda­tors. It’s far more likely that they were used to in­tim­i­date or do bat­tle with ri­vals of the same sex, as well as to at­tract in­di­vid­u­als of the op­po­site sex,” he added.

This map shows the anc­ient west­ern in­ter­ior sea­way be­lieved to have di­vid­ed the "lost conti­nent" of La­ra­mi­dia from Ap­pa­la­chia, and dis­tri­bu­tion of dino­saurs iden­ti­fied in the rich "dino­saur bone­yard." (Ut­ah Mu­se­um of Na­tur­al His­tory)


The di­no­saurs were disco­vered in Utah’s Grand Stair­case-Esca­lante Na­tional Mon­u­ment, which en­com­passes 1.9 mil­lion ac­res of high des­ert ter­rain. This vast and rug­ged re­gion was the last ma­jor ar­ea in the low­er 48 states to be for­mally mapped by car­togra­phers. 

It’s “one of the coun­try’s last great, largely un­ex­plored di­no­saur bone­yards,” Samp­son said.

For most of the Late Cre­ta­ceous Pe­ri­od, the last great era of the di­no­saurs that ended some 65 mil­lion years ago, sea lev­els flood­ed the low-lying parts of seve­ral con­ti­nents. In North Amer­i­ca, a warm, shal­low sea called the West­ern In­te­ri­or Sea­way ex­tend­ed from the Arc­tic Ocean to the Gulf of Mex­i­co, sub­di­vid­ing the con­ti­nent in­to east­ern and west­ern sec­tions, called Ap­pa­la­chia and Lara­midia, re­spec­tive­ly. 

Lit­tle is known of the plants and an­i­mals of Ap­pa­la­chia, but the rocks of Lara­midia ex­posed in the West­ern In­te­ri­or of North Amer­i­ca have gene­rated a pleth­o­ra of di­no­saur re­mains. Lara­midia was less than one-third the size of pre­s­ent day North Amer­i­ca, about the ar­ea of Aus­tral­ia.

Most known Laramid­ian di­no­saurs were con­cen­trat­ed in a nar­row belt of plains sand­wiched be­tween the sea­way to the east and moun­tains to the west. Utah was in the south­ern part of Laramidia, which has yielded far few­er di­no­saur re­mains than the fossil-rich north. The world of di­no­saurs was much warm­er than the pre­s­ent day; Utah­ce­ra­tops and Kos­mo­ce­ra­tops lived in a sub­trop­i­cal swampy en­vi­ron­ment about 100 km (60 miles) from the sea­way.

In the 1960’s, pa­le­on­tol­ogists be­gan to no­tice that the same ma­jor groups of di­no­saurs seemed to be pre­s­ent all over this Late Cre­ta­ceous land­mass, but dif­fer­ent spe­cies of these groups oc­curred in the north (for ex­am­ple, Al­ber­ta and Mon­tan­a) than in the south (New Mex­i­co and Tex­as). 

A puz­zle was “How could so many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of gi­ant an­i­mals have co-existed on such a small chunk of real es­tate?” Loe­wen said. One pos­si­bil­ity was abun­dant food, and an­oth­er was phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers such as moun­tains or dif­fer­ing cli­mates, which would have kept spe­cies apart, he added; the new fos­sils may be use­ful to help test these ideas.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing time to be a pa­le­on­tol­ogist,” Samp­son added. “With many new di­no­saurs still disco­vered each year, we can be quite cer­tain that plen­ty of sur­prises still await us out there.”


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Two bizarre new dinosaurs—one with a stupendously multi-horned face and another likened to a giant rhino with an absurdly large head—have turned up in southern Utah, scientists say. The giant plant-eaters lived in what was then a “lost continent” called Laramidia, according to researchers. This land mass formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America, isolating the eastern and western parts of the continent for millions of years late in the dinosaur era. The newfound fossils, close relatives of the famous Triceratops, were described Sept. 22 in the research journal PLoS One. The bigger of the new dinosaurs, with a skull 2.3 meters (about 7 feet) long, was given the scientific name Utahceratops gettyi. The first part of the name combines the state of origin with ceratops, Greek for “horned face.” The second part of the name honors Mike Getty, paleontology collections manager at the Utah Museum of Natural History, credited with discovering the animal. Utahceratops sported a large horn over the nose along with short, blunt eye horns projecting strongly sideways rather than upward, much more like modern bison than like Triceratops or its other relatives. The animal would have looked like “a giant rhino with a ridiculously supersized head,” said Mark Loewen of the Utah Museum of Natural History, one of the authors. The second newly identified species is Kosmoceratops richardsoni. Here, the first part of the name refers to kosmos, Latin for “ornate,” and ceratops, once again meaning “horned face.” The latter part of the name honors Scott Richardson, a volunteer reported to have discovered two skulls of the reptile. Kosmoceratops also has sideways eye horns, although much longer and pointier than in Utahceratops. In all, Kosmoceratops had 15 horns—one over the nose, one atop each eye, one at the tip of each cheek bone, and ten across the rear margin of the bony frill—making it the most ornate-headed dinosaur known, researchers sakd. “Kosmoceratops is one of the most amazing animals known, with a huge skull decorated with an assortment of bony bells and whistles,” said the museum’s Scott Sampson, the paper’s lead author. “Most of these bizarre features would have made lousy weapons to fend off predators. It’s far more likely that they were used to intimidate or do battle with rivals of the same sex, as well as to attract individuals of the opposite sex,” he added. The dinosaurs were discovered in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which encompasses 1.9 million acres of high desert terrain. This vast and rugged region, part of the National Landscape Conservation System administered by the Bureau of Land Management, was the last major area in the lower 48 states to be formally mapped by cartographers. It’s “one of the country’s last great, largely unexplored dinosaur boneyards,” Sampson said. For most of the Late Cretaceous Period, the last great era of the dinosaurs that ended some 65 million years ago, sea levels flooded the low-lying parts of several continents. In North America, a warm, shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway extended from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, subdividing the continent into eastern and western sections, called Appalachia and Laramidia, respectively. Little is known of the plants and animals that lived on Appalachia, but the rocks of Laramidia exposed in the Western Interior of North America have generated a plethora of dinosaur remains. Laramidia was less than one-third the size of present day North America, approximating the area of Australia. Most known Laramidian dinosaurs were concentrated in a narrow belt of plains sandwiched between the seaway to the east and mountains to the west. Utah was located in the southern part of Laramidia, which has yielded far fewer dinosaur remains than the fossil-rich north. The world of dinosaurs was much warmer than the present day; Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops lived in a subtropical swampy environment about 100 km (60 miles) from the seaway. Beginning in the 1960’s, paleontologists began to notice that the same major groups of dinosaurs seemed to be present all over this Late Cretaceous landmass, but different species of these groups occurred in the north (for example, Alberta and Montana) than in the south (New Mexico and Texas). A puzzle was “How could so many different varieties of giant animals have co-existed on such a small chunk of real estate?” Loewen said. One possibility was abundant food, and another was physical barriers such as mountains or differing climates, which would have kept species apart, he added; the new fossils may be useful to help test these ideas. “It’s an exciting time to be a paleontologist,” Sampson added. “With many new dinosaurs still discovered each year, we can be quite certain that plenty of surprises still await us out there.”