A team of paleontologists has identified two new species of horned dinosaurs, known from fossils found in Alberta, Canada.
A study, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, describes two new species of horned dinosaurs from the Leptoceratopsidae family, called Unescoceratops koppelhusae and Gryphoceratops morrisoni. They lived during the Late Cretaceous period between 75 to 83 million years ago.
“These dinosaurs fill important gaps in the evolutionary history of small-bodied horned dinosaurs that lack the large horns and frills of relatives like Triceratops from North America,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and lead author on the study.
“Although horned dinosaurs originated in Asia, our analysis suggests that leptoceratopsids radiated to North America and diversified here, since the new species, Gryphoceratops, is the earliest record of the group on this continent.”
U. koppelhusae measured about one to two meters (6.5 feet) in length and weighed less than 91 kilograms (200 pounds). It had a short frill extending from behind its head but did not have ornamentation on its skull. It had a parrot-like beak. Its teeth were lower and rounder than those of any other leptoceratopsid. In addition, its hatchet-shaped jaw had a distinct portion of bone that projected below the jaw like a small chin.
The lower left jaw fragment of Unescoceratops was discovered in 1995 in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site by Dr. Philip Currie, now of the University of Alberta.
Originally described in 1998 by Ryan and Currie, the dinosaur was referred to as Leptoceratops. Subsequent research by Ryan and David Evans, Ph.D., of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, determined the specimen was a new genus and species.
The species is named for Dr. Eva Koppelhus, a palynologist at the University of Alberta and wife of Dr. Currie.
G. morrisoni had a shorter and deeper jaw shape than any other leptoceratopsid. Researchers believe the individual was a full-grown adult. Based on unique characteristics of the jaw and its size, the researchers believe that Gryphoceratops was an adult that did not exceed one-half meter in length. This means it is the smallest adult-sized horned dinosaur in North America and one of the smallest adult-sized plant-eating dinosaurs known.
Lower right jaw fragments of Gryphoceratops were discovered in southern Alberta in 1950 by Levi Sternberg while he worked for the Royal Ontario Museum.
The species is named in honor of Ian Morrison, a Royal Ontario Museum technician, who discovered how the bones fit together.
“Small-bodied dinosaurs are typically poorly represented in the fossil record, which is why fragmentary remains like these new leptoceratopsids can make a big contribution to our understanding of dinosaur ecology and evolution,” concluded Dr. David Evans, a co-author of the paper and associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.