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New dino species has “winged crest”

June 17, 2014
Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists have named a new spe­cies of horned di­no­saur based on fos­sils col­lect­ed from Mon­tana in the Un­ited States and Al­ber­ta, Can­a­da. 

Mer­curicer­atops (mer-cure-E-sare-ah-tops) gem­i­ni was about six me­ters (20 feet) long and weighed more than two tons, sci­en­tists say. It lived about 77 mil­lion years ago dur­ing the Late Cre­ta­ceous Pe­ri­od. Re­search de­scrib­ing the new spe­cies is pub­lished on­line in the jour­nal Natur­wis­sen­schaf­ten.

Artist's re­con­struc­tion of Mer­cu­ri­cer­a­tops ge­m­i­ni, a new spe­cies of horned di­no­saur that had wing-like or­na­men­ta­t on the sides of its skull. (Cour­te­sy Danielle Du­fault)


Mer­cur­i­cer­atops (Mer­curi + cer­atops) means “Mer­cury horned-face,” re­fer­ring to wing-like or­na­menta­t­ion on its head that re­sem­bles the wings on the hel­met of the Ro­man god, Mer­cu­ry. The name “gem­i­ni” refers to the al­most iden­ti­cal twin spec­i­mens found in north cen­tral Mon­tana and the UN­ESCO World Her­it­age Site, Di­no­saur Pro­vin­cial Park, in Al­ber­ta, Can­a­da. 

A plant-eater, Mer­cur­i­cer­atops had a parrot-like beak and probably two long brow horns above its eyes, ac­cord­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tors. 

Mer­cur­i­cer­atops took a un­ique ev­o­lu­tion­ary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull in­to pro­trud­ing wings like the dec­o­ra­tive fins on clas­sic 1950s cars. It de­fin­i­tively would have stood out from the herd,” said study lead au­thor Mi­chael Ryan, cu­ra­tor of ver­te­brate pa­le­on­tol­ogy at The Cleve­land Mu­se­um of Nat­u­ral His­to­ry. 

“Horned di­no­saurs in North Amer­i­ca used their elab­o­rate skull or­na­menta­t­ion to iden­ti­fy each oth­er and to at­tract mates—not just for pro­tec­tion from preda­tors. The wing-like pro­tru­sions on the sides of its frill may have of­fered male Mer­cur­i­cer­atops a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in at­tracting mates.”

“The butterfly-shaped frill, or neck shield, of Mer­cur­i­cer­atops is un­like an­y­thing we have seen be­fore,” said study co-au­thor Da­vid Ev­ans, cu­ra­tor of ver­te­brate pa­le­on­tol­ogy at the Roy­al On­tar­i­o Mu­se­um. “Mer­curicer­atops shows that ev­o­lu­tion gave rise to much great­er varia­t­ion in horned di­no­saur head­gear than we had pre­vi­ously sus­pect­ed.”

The an­i­mal, clas­si­fied as part of a line­age of horned di­no­saurs known as cer­atopsians, is de­scribed based on skull frag­ments from two in­di­vid­u­als col­lect­ed from the Ju­dith Riv­er Forma­t­ion of Mon­tana and the Di­no­saur Park Forma­t­ion of Al­ber­ta. The Mon­tana spec­i­men was orig­i­nally col­lect­ed on pri­vate land and ac­quired by the Roy­al On­tar­i­o Mu­se­um. The Al­ber­ta spec­i­men was col­lect­ed by Su­san Owen-Kagen, a pre­par­a­tor in Phil­ip Cur­rie’s lab at the Uni­vers­ity of Al­ber­ta. “Su­san showed me her spec­i­men dur­ing one of my trips to Al­ber­ta,” said Ryan. “I in­stantly rec­og­nized it as be­ing from the same type of di­no­saur that the Roy­al On­tar­i­o Mu­se­um had from Mon­tana.”


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Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur based on fossils collected from Montana in the United States and Alberta, Canada. Mercuriceratops (mer-cure-E-sare-ah-tops) gemini was about six meters (20 feet) long and weighed more than two tons, scientists say. It lived about 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period. Research describing the new species is published online in the journal Naturwissenschaften. Mercuriceratops (Mercuri + ceratops) means “Mercury horned-face,” referring to the wing-like ornamentation on its head that resembles the wings on the helmet of the Roman god, Mercury. The name “gemini” refers to the almost identical twin specimens found in north central Montana and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dinosaur Provincial Park, in Alberta, Canada. A plant-eater, Mercuriceratops had a parrot-like beak and probably two long brow horns above its eyes, according to the investigators. “Mercuriceratops took a unique evolutionary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull into protruding wings like the decorative fins on classic 1950s cars. It definitively would have stood out from the herd,” said study lead author Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Horned dinosaurs in North America used their elaborate skull ornamentation to identify each other and to attract mates—not just for protection from predators. The wing-like protrusions on the sides of its frill may have offered male Mercuriceratops a competitive advantage in attracting mates.” “The butterfly-shaped frill, or neck shield, of Mercuriceratops is unlike anything we have seen before,” said study co-author David Evans, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum. “Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected.” The animal, classified as part of a lineage of horned dinosaurs known as ceratopsians, is described based on skull fragments from two individuals collected from the Judith River Formation of Montana and the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta. The Montana specimen was originally collected on private land and acquired by the Royal Ontario Museum. The Alberta specimen was collected by Susan Owen-Kagen, a preparator in Philip Currie’s lab at the University of Alberta. “Susan showed me her specimen during one of my trips to Alberta,” said Ryan. “I instantly recognized it as being from the same type of dinosaur that the Royal Ontario Museum had from Montana.”