In what’s shaping up to be the Summer of the Ceratopsid, paleontologists announced Wednesday that they had discovered yet another new species of horned dinosaur in the American West.
And even though it’s the third dino of its kind to be identified in the past four months, it may outclass the others with its distinctive looks.
Named Nasutoceratops, it probably bore a striking profile, even for a relative of the famous Triceratops — with unusually long, forward facing horns over its eyes, and the biggest beak-like nose yet found on a ceratopsid.
A team of researchers — led by Scott Sampson of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science — identified the species after paleontologist Eric Lund, a graduate student at the time, discovered its skull in 2006 while working in the canyons of southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Though high and dry today, the region was verdant and marshy in Nasutoceratops’ time — about 76 million years ago — as was much of what’s now the intermountain West.
Indeed, this is why the fossils of sea monsters have been found in Kansas, for example, and prehistoric shorebirds discovered on the semi-arid plateaus of Wyoming.
(Read more about it: “Extinct Tropical Bird Discovered in Wyoming“)
But the significance of the new dinosaur find is not just its unusual features: It also reinforces a pattern that paleontologists have been seeing since the late 1960s, of different species within dinosaur groups being found in the southern stretches of the American West than are found in the north.
In April, for example, Yale University’s Dr. Nick Longrich reported the discovery of an ancient species of ceratopsid in Montana that may be the oldest known ancestor of Triceratops, itself perhaps the most famous member of the northern dinosaur community.
Just a few weeks later, another horned-dinosaur species was identified down in Texas — also, as it happens, with an enlarged snout — a type that had never been found in the north.
Considering how small the ancient West was back then — basically a small continent the size of Australia — the diversity of such “dinosaur provincialism” is still perplexing experts.
“We’re still working to figure out how so many different kinds of giant animals managed to co-exist on such a small landmass,” team member Mark Loewen, of the University of Utah, said in a press statement.
Lund, the discoverer of the fossil, concurred.
“Nasutoceratops is a wondrous example of just how much more we have to learn about with world of dinosaurs,” he said.
“Many more exciting fossils await discovery in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”
The team reports on their discovery in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B.
• “A remarkable short-snouted horned dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous (late Campanian) of southern Laramidia,” Proceedings of the Royal Academy B, Vol. 280, No. 1766
• “Big-nosed, long-horned dinosaur discovered in Utah” University of Utah