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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
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New horned dinosaur, now named after Norse god, discovered in Montana

Researchers have found that a fossil discovered in 2019 is a new species of centrosaurine, a type of horned dinosaurs similar to the Triceratops.

(CN) — Researchers unveiled on Thursday a newly discovered dinosaur species, discovered in the Montana badlands, that they say challenges assumptions that archeologists made about horned dinosaurs.

Paleontologists detailed the discovery of the dinosaur dubbed Lokiceratops rangiformis in a study published Thursday in the journal PeerJ.

Scientists estimate that the 22-foot-long Lokiceratops weighed about 11,000 pounds, and roamed the earth about 78 million years ago in the late Cretaceous period. That's roughly 12 million years before its more famous cousin, the Triceratops, roamed the same area.

The dinosaur's most striking feature is its horns, which are larger than have been found on any other dinosaur skull. The unusual shape and size of the horns inspired its name, which roughly translates as "Loki's horned face formed like a caribou," referencing the trickster god of Norse mythology sometimes depicted with horns.

“This new dinosaur pushes the envelope on bizarre ceratopsian headgear, sporting the largest frill horns ever seen in a ceratopsian,” said Joseph Sertich, a paleontologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Colorado State University, and co-author of the study. “These skull ornaments are one of the keys to unlocking horned dinosaur diversity and demonstrate that evolutionary selection for showy displays contributed to the dizzying richness of Cretaceous ecosystems.” 

Lokiceratops appears to have lived alongside four other horned dinosaurs, all of which were discovered at the same archeological site near the U.S.-Canada border that in the Cretaceous period was an isolated island called Laramidia.

The discovery of multiple dinosaur species in one place flies in the face of what scientists previously believed about the diversity of dinosaur species.

“Previously, paleontologists thought a maximum of two species of horned dinosaurs could coexist at the same place and time. Incredibly, we have identified five living together at the same time,” said co-lead author Mark Loewen, paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and professor in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah. “The skull of Lokiceratops rangiformis is dramatically different from the other four animals it lived alongside.”

The skeleton of Lokiceratops differs from the three other dinosaurs of the same subfamily that were found in the area: Wendiceratops pinhornensis, Albertaceratops nesmoi and Medusaceratops lokii.

“Rapid evolution may have led to the 100- to 200-thousand-year turnover of individual species of these horned dinosaurs,” said Loewen.

The Lokiceratops skeleton was originally discovered in 2019 by Mark Eatman. However, the scientists hadn't determined it was a new species until the completion of this study by joint team of researchers from the National Science Foundation, the Natural History Museum of Utah, the University of Utah and the Museum of Evolution.

The skeleton is currently on display in Museum of Evolution in Maribo, Denmark. Replicas of the skeleton can be found at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and at the Natural History Museum of Utah, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Categories / History, Science

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