A team of paleontologists from Canada and the United States has discovered a new genus and species of horned, plant-eating dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous, about 77 million years ago.
The new dinosaur, named Mercuriceratops gemini, has been described from skull fossils of two individuals recovered from the Judith River Formation, north central Montana, the United States, and the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta, Canada.
The generic name, Mercuriceratops, 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 specific name refers to the almost identical twin specimens of this dinosaur found in the United States and Canada.
Mercuriceratops was about 6 m long and weighed more than 2,000 kg. It had two long brow horns above eyes and a parrot-like beak.
“Horned dinosaurs in North America used their elaborate skull ornamentation to identify each other and to attract mates – not just for protection from predators,” said Dr Michael Ryan from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the first author of a paper published in the journal Naturwissenschaften.
“The wing-like protrusions on the sides of its frill may have offered male Mercuriceratops a competitive advantage in attracting mates.”
Dr David Evans, a paleontologist with the Royal Ontario Museum and a co-author on the paper, added: “Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected. The butterfly-shaped frill, or neck shield, of Mercuriceratops is unlike anything we have seen before.”
“This discovery of a previously unknown species in relatively well-studied rocks underscores that we still have many more new species of dinosaurs to left to find,” said paper co-author Dr Mark Loewen of the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Michael J. Ryan et al. 2014. A new chasmosaurine from northern Laramidia expands frill disparity in ceratopsid dinosaurs. Naturwissenschaften, vol. 101, no. 6, pp. 505-512; doi: 10.1007/s00114-014-1183-1