Xenoceratops, New Horned Dinosaur from Canada

A new species of horned, plant-eating dinosaur has been identified by U.S. and Canadian paleontologists from fossils originally collected in 1958.

An artist’s reconstruction of Xenoceratops (Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences)

The newly identified dinosaur Xenoceratops foremostensis lived about 78 million years ago in what is now Alberta, Canada.

Xenoceratops means ‘alien horned-face,’ referring to the strange pattern of horns on its head and the scarcity of horned dinosaur fossils from this part of the fossil record, it also honors the Village of Foremost, located close to where the fossils were found.

The dinosaur was about 20 feet (6 meters) long and weighed more than 2 tons. It had a parrot-like beak with two long brow horns above its eyes, a large frill protruded from the back of its skull featuring two huge spikes.

Xenoceratops is the oldest known large-bodied horned dinosaur from Canada, about 0.5 million years older than Albertaceratops discovered in 2007.

“Starting 80 million years ago, the large-bodied horned dinosaurs in North America underwent an evolutionary explosion,” said Dr Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, lead author of a paper describing the dinosaur in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

Xenoceratops shows us that even the geologically oldest ceratopsids had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved.”

Xenoceratops provides new information on the early evolution of ceratopsids, the group of large-bodied horned dinosaurs that includes Triceratops,” added co-author Dr David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto. “The early fossil record of ceratopsids remains scant, and this discovery highlights just how much more there is to learn about the origin of this diverse group.”

The dinosaur is described from skull fragments from at least three individuals from the Foremost Formation originally collected by Dr Wann Langston Jr. in the 1950s, and is currently housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada.

Dr Ryan and Dr Evans stumbled upon the undescribed material more than a decade ago and recognized the bones as a new type of horned dinosaur. Dr Evans later discovered a 50-year-old plaster field jacket at the Canadian Museum of Nature containing more skull bones from the same fossil locality and had them prepared in his lab at the Royal Ontario Museum.

“This discovery of a previously unknown species also drives home the importance of having access to scientific collections,” said co-author Dr Kieran Shepherd of the Canadian Museum of Nature. “The collections are an untapped source of new material for study, and offer the potential for many new discoveries.”

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Bibliographic information: Michael J. Ryan et al. 2012. A new ceratopsid from the Foremost Formation (middle Campanian) of Alberta. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 49(11): 1251-1262; doi: 10.1139/e2012-056