Cleveland, Ohio - Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur (ceratopsian) based on fossils collected from Montana in the United States and Alberta, Canada. Mercuriceratops (mer-cure-E-sare-ah-tops) gemini was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) long and weighed more than 2 tons. 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. Mercuriceratops had a parrot-like beak and probably had two long brow horns above its eyes. It was a plant-eating dinosaur.
"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 during the Late Cretaceous," said lead author Dr. 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 co-author Dr. David Evans, curator of vertebrate palaeontology 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 new dinosaur is described from 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 Dr. Philip Currie's lab at the University of Alberta. "Susan showed me her specimen during one of my trips to Alberta," said Ryan. "When I saw it, I instantly recognized it as being from the same type of dinosaur that the Royal Ontario Museum had from Montana."
The Alberta specimen confirmed that the fossil from Montana was not a pathological specimen, nor had it somehow been distorted during the process of fossilization," said Dr. Philip Currie, professor and Canada research chair in dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Alberta. "The two fossils—squamosal bones from the side of the frill—have all the features you would expect, just presented in a unique shape."
"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 co-author Dr. Mark Loewen, research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
This dinosaur is just the latest in a series of new finds being made by Ryan and Evans as part of their Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which is designed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and study their evolution. This project focuses on the paleontology of some of oldest dinosaur-bearing rocks in Alberta and the neighbouring rocks of northern Montana that are of the same age.
Full Reference: Michael J. Ryan, David C. Evans, Philip J. Currie, and Mark A. Loewen. 2014. "A new chasmosaurine from northern Laramidia expands frill disparity in ceratopsid dinosaurs" DOI 10.1007/s00114-014-1183-1
Press images: https://www.cmnh.org/Mercuriceratops
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Royal Ontario Museum
University of Alberta
Natural History Museum of Utah
About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, incorporated in 1920, is one of the finest institutions of its kind in North America. It is noted for its collections, research, educational programs and exhibits. The collections encompass more than 5 million artifacts and specimens, and research of global significance focuses on 11 natural science disciplines. The Museum conserves biological diversity through the protection of more than 6,000 acres of natural areas. It promotes health education with local programs and distance learning that extends across the globe. Its GreenCityBlueLake Institute is a center of thought and practice for the design of green and sustainable cities.
About the Royal Ontario Museum
Opened in 1914, Canada's largest museum of natural history and world cultures has six million objects in its collections and galleries showcasing art, archaeology and natural science. The ROM is the largest field research institution in the country, and a world leader in research areas from biodiversity, palaeontology, and earth sciences to archaeology, ethnology and visual culture—originating new information towards a global understanding of historical and modern change in culture and environment. For 24-hour information in English and French, please call 416.586.8000 or visit the ROM's web site at http://www.rom.on.ca. Tickets are available online at http://www.rom.on.ca. For specific questions or concerns pertaining to the ROM's Accessibility, call 416.586.8000 prior to visiting. For those who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, Bell Relay Service can be reached by dialing 711 or 1.800.855.0511.
About the University of Alberta
The University of Alberta in Edmonton is one of Canada's top teaching and research universities, with an international reputation for excellence across the humanities, sciences, creative arts, business, engineering, and health sciences. Home to more than 39,000 students and 15,000 faculty and staff, the university has an annual budget of $1.7 billion and attracts nearly $450 million in sponsored research revenue. The U of A offers close to 400 rigorous undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in 18 faculties on five campuses—including one rural and one francophone campus. The university has almost 250,000 alumni worldwide. The university and its people remain dedicated to the promise made in 1908 by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that knowledge shall be used for "uplifting the whole people."
About the Natural History Museum of Utah
The Natural History Museum of Utah, the University of Utah, is one of the leading scientific research and cultural institutions in the Intermountain West. Established in 1963, the Museum cares for over 1.2 million objects and offers innovative exhibitions and educational programs to thousands of residents and visitors each year, including traveling and permanent exhibits, special events and other programs. The Museum also offers a variety of outreach programs to communities and schools throughout Utah, reaching every school district in the state annually. The Museum has an active research program with more than 30 scientists and 10 field expeditions each year.
AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert! system.