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"Long before it's in the papers"
June 06, 2015

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Newfound dino resembles Triceratops with frills

June 6, 2015
Courtesy of Cell Press
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists are re­port­ing the dis­cov­ery of a close rel­a­tive of the strange and spec­tac­u­lar horned di­no­saur Tricer­atops—this one with ad­di­tion­al frills on the back of the head.

First no­ticed by a pass­er­by stick­ing out of a cliff along the Old­man Riv­er in Can­a­da, the bones are de­scribed in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­o­gy on June 4.

Artistic life reconstruction of the new horned dinosaur Regaliceratops peterhewsi in the palaeoenvironment of the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada. (Art by Julius T. Csotonyi. Courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta)


It co­mes from a region in Al­ber­ta, Ca­na­da “where we have not found horned di­no­saurs be­fore, so from the on­set we knew it was im­por­tant,” said Ca­leb Brown of the Roy­al Tyrrell Mu­se­um of Pal­ae­on­tol­ogy in Al­ber­ta, Can­a­da. 

But “it was not un­til the spec­i­men was be­ing slowly pre­pared from the rocks in the lab­o­r­a­to­ry that the full anat­o­my was un­cov­ered, and the bizarre” char­ac­ter­is­tics re­vealed.

“Many horned-di­no­saur re­search­ers who vis­ited the mu­se­um did a dou­ble take when they first saw it in the lab­o­r­a­to­ry.”

What made it dis­tinc­tive was the size and shape of its fa­cial horns and the shield-like frill at the back of the skull, Brown said. It’s much like Tri­cer­a­tops, but its nose horn is taller and the two horns over its eyes are “al­most com­ic­ally smal­l.” And most no­ta­bly, there is the frill, in­clud­ing what Brown de­scribes as a ha­lo of large, pen­tag­o­nal plates ra­di­at­ing out­ward, as well as a cen­tral spike. “The com­bined re­sult looks like a crown,” he said.

Brown and study co-author Don­ald Hen­der­son named the new di­no­saur Re­gal­icer­atops pe­ter­hewsi, a ref­er­ence to its crown-like frill and to the man who first found and re­ported it to the mu­se­um, Pe­ter Hews. 

De­spite the for­mal name, the sci­en­tists say they’ve tak­en to call­ing this an­i­mal by the nick­name “Hell­boy.”

While the beast is in­tri­guing in its own right, Brown and Hen­der­son say what’s most sig­nif­i­cant are the im­plica­t­ions for the ev­o­lu­tion of di­no­saurs’ horned or­na­menta­t­ion. It’s long been known that horned di­no­saurs fall in­to one of two groups: the Chas­mosaurines, with a small horn over the nose, larg­er horns over the eyes, and a long frill, and the Cen­trosaurines, char­ac­terized by a large horn over the nose, small horns over the eyes, and a short frill.

“This new spe­cies is a Chas­mo­saur­ine, but it has or­na­menta­t­ion more si­m­i­lar to Cen­tro­saur­ines,” Brown said. “It al­so comes from a time pe­ri­od fol­low­ing the ex­tinc­tion of the Cen­tro­saur­ines.”

Tak­en to­geth­er, he said, that makes this the first ex­am­ple of ev­o­lu­tion­ary con­ver­gence in horned di­no­saurs, mean­ing that these two groups in­de­pend­ently evolved si­m­i­lar fea­tures.

The re­search­ers say they hope to un­co­ver more Re­gal­icer­atops pe­ter­hewsi spec­i­mens. They’ll al­so be work­ing on dig­it­al re­con­struc­tions of the skull, not­ing that, though in­tact, the fos­sil has been de­formed af­ter 70 mil­lion years in the Rocky Moun­tain foothills.

“This dis­cov­ery al­so sug­gests that there are likely more horned di­no­saurs out there that we just have not found yet, so we will al­so be look­ing for oth­er new spe­cies,” Brown said.


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Scientists are reporting the discovery of a close relative of the strange and spectacular horned dinosaur Triceratops—this one with additional frills on the back of the head. First noticed by a passerby sticking out of a cliff along the Oldman River in Canada, the bones are described in the journal Current Biology on June 4. It “comes from a geographic region of Alberta where we have not found horned dinosaurs before, so from the onset we knew it was important,” said Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada. But “it was not until the specimen was being slowly prepared from the rocks in the laboratory that the full anatomy was uncovered, and the bizarre” characteristics revealed. “Many horned-dinosaur researchers who visited the museum did a double take when they first saw it in the laboratory.” What made it distinctive was the size and shape of its facial horns and the shield-like frill at the back of the skull, Brown said. It’s much like Triceratops, but its nose horn is taller and the two horns over its eyes are “almost comically small.” And most notably, there is the frill, including what Brown describes as a halo of large, pentagonal plates radiating outward, as well as a central spike. “The combined result looks like a crown,” he said. Brown and study co-author Donald Henderson named the new dinosaur Regaliceratops peterhewsi, a reference to its crown-like frill and to the man who first found and reported it to the museum, Peter Hews. Despite the formal name, the scientists say they’ve taken to calling this animal by the nickname “Hellboy.” While this new dinosaur is intriguing in its own right, Brown and Henderson say what’s most significant are the implications for the evolution of dinosaurs’ horned ornamentation. It’s long been known that horned dinosaurs fall into one of two groups: the Chasmosaurines, with a small horn over the nose, larger horns over the eyes, and a long frill, and the Centrosaurines, characterized by a large horn over the nose, small horns over the eyes, and a short frill. “This new species is a Chasmosaurine, but it has ornamentation more similar to Centrosaurines,” Brown said. “It also comes from a time period following the extinction of the Centrosaurines.” Taken together, he said, that makes this the first example of evolutionary convergence in horned dinosaurs, meaning that these two groups independently evolved similar features. The researchers say they hope to uncover more Regaliceratops peterhewsi specimens. They’ll also be working on digital reconstructions of the skull, noting that, though intact, the fossil has been deformed after 70 million years in the Rocky Mountain foothills. “This discovery also suggests that there are likely more horned dinosaurs out there that we just have not found yet, so we will also be looking for other new species,” Brown said.