New Horned Dinosaur: Two-Ton Plant-Eater Lived 78 Million Years Ago in Montana

Monday, February 14, 2011

Artist's rendering of Medusaceratops. (Credit: Copyright Luis Rey)

Science Daily (May 30, 2010) — Michael J. Ryan, Ph.D., a scientist at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, has announced the discovery of a new horned dinosaur, Medusaceratops lokii. Approximately 20 feet long and weighing more than 2 tons, the newly identified plant-eating dinosaur lived nearly 78 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period in what is now Montana. Its identification marks the discovery of a new genus of horned dinosaur.

Ryan, curator and head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Museum, published his findings on the new genus in the book, "New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium," available from Indiana University Press. Ryan was the book's lead editor.

Medusaceratops belongs to the Chasmosaurinae subfamily of the horned dinosaur family Ceratopsidae. The other subfamily is Centrosaurinae. The specimen is the first Campanian-aged chasmosaurine ceratopsid found in Montana. It is also the oldest known Chasmosaurine ceratopsid.

The new dinosaur was discovered in a bonebed on private land located along the Milk River in North Central Montana. Fossilized bones from the site were acquired by Canada Fossil, Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, in the mid-1990s. The company consulted with Ryan and his colleagues to identify material from the site. At first, the scientists could not make a positive identification.

Medusaceratops had giant brow bones more than 3 feet long over each eye, and a large, shield-like frill off the back of its skull adorned with large curling hooks. Medusaceratops lokii means "Loki's horned-faced Medusa," referring to the thickened, fossilized, snake-like hooks on the side of the frill. It was named after Loki, the Norse god of mischief, because the new dinosaur initially caused scientists some confusion.

"At first we couldn't figure out what we had," said Ryan. "Some of the material looked as if it came from a form related to Centrosaurus, a centrosaurine noted for having short brow horns. The rest of the pieces had giant brow horns similar to Triceratops, a chasmosaurine. That's one of the problems with bonebeds -- even though you can collect a large amount of material, much of it is broken and all of it is disarticulated, so the story is rarely clear cut."

Eventually Ryan found a complete articulated skull of a centrosaur with long brow horns in southern Alberta of what appeared to be the new animal from Montana, and named it Albertaceratops in 2007. At that time, he assumed he was looking at a stray that had literally crossed the international border millions of years ago.

After reexamining the Montanan material more recently, Ryan realized that at least some of the material in the Montana bonebed was not Albertaceratops. Some of the elements were much larger than any other horned dinosaur from the same time period, including Albertaceratops. And even though Albertaceratops and Medusaceratops are superficially very similar, the shape and number of the hooks and ornaments along the edge of the frill actually puts them in separate horned dinosaur groups, with Medusaceratops being a chasmosaur.

"Although the ornamentation on the frill is pretty spectacular, it probably was not used for defense against predators; rather it was more likely prehistoric "bling" used to attract a mate," said co-author Anthony Russell, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences at the University of Calgary in Alberta.

"Medusaceratops is the oldest member of the Chasmosaurinae in North America and shows that the group, like its most famous member, Triceratops, had long brow horns and were fairly large when they first evolved," said Ryan. "But later chasmosaurs that are just a bit younger than Medusaceratops tend to have much shorter horns and have much smaller, lighter bodies.

"Here we have something almost the size of Triceratops, but 10 million years before it lived," Ryan said. "T. rex was not around yet, so what was Medusaceratops squaring off against? That's one of the things we're now looking for in Alberta."

The research was originally conducted when Ryan was a Ph.D. candidate working with Dr. Russell at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Much of the material, including the holotype, is now in the collection of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming, with other material curated at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.

Amazing Horned Dinosaurs Unearthed on 'Lost Continent'; New Discoveries Include Bizarre Beast With 15 Horns

Artist's rendering of two new species of dinosaur -- Utahceratops gettyi and Kosmoceratops richardsoni -- discovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument of southern Utah. (Credit: Courtesy of Utah Museum of Natural History)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2010) — Two remarkable new species of horned dinosaurs have been found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah. The giant plant-eaters were inhabitants of the "lost continent" of Laramidia, formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America, isolating the eastern and western portions of the continent for millions of years during the Late Cretaceous Period.
The newly discovered dinosaurs, close relatives of the famous Triceratops, were announced in PLoS ONE, the online open-access journal produced by the Public Library of Science.

The study, funded in large part by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Science Foundation, was led by Scott Sampson and Mark Loewen of the Utah Museum of Natural History (UMNH) and Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah. Additional authors include Andrew Farke (Raymond Alf Museum), Eric Roberts (James Cook University), Joshua Smith (University of Utah), Catherine Forster (George Washington University), and Alan Titus (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument).

The bigger of the two new dinosaurs, with a skull 2.3 meters (about 7 feet) long, is Utahceratops gettyi (U-tah-SARA-tops get-EE-i). The first part of the name combines the state of origin with ceratops, Greek for "horned face." The second part of the name honors Mike Getty, paleontology collections manager at the Utah Museum of Natural History and the discoverer of this animal. In addition to a large horn over the nose, Utahceratops has short and blunt eye horns that project strongly to the side rather than upward, much more like the horns of modern bison than those of Triceratops or other ceratopsians. Mark Loewen, one of the authors on the paper, likened Utahceratops to "a giant rhino with a ridiculously supersized head."

Second of the new species is Kosmoceratops richardsoni (KOZ-mo-SARA-tops RICH-ard-SON-i). Here, the first part of the name refers to kosmos, Latin for "ornate," and ceratops, once again meaning "horned face." The latter part of the name honors Scott Richardson, the volunteer who discovered two skulls of this animal. Kosmoceratops also has sideways oriented eye horns, although much longer and more pointed than in Utahceratops. In all, Kosmoceratops possesses a total of 15 horns -- one over the nose, one atop each eye, one at the tip of each cheek bone, and ten across the rear margin of the bony frill -- making it the most ornate-headed dinosaur known. Scott Sampson, the paper's lead author, claimed that, "Kosmoceratops is one of the most amazing animals known, with a huge skull decorated with an assortment of bony bells and whistles."

Although much speculation has ensued about the function of ceratopsian horns and frills -- from fighting off predators to recognizing other members of the same species or controlling body temperature -- the dominant idea today is that these features functioned first and foremost to enhance reproductive success. Sampson added, "Most of these bizarre features would have made lousy weapons to fend off predators. It's far more likely that they were used to intimidate or do battle with rivals of the same sex, as well as to attract individuals of the opposite sex."

The dinosaurs were discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), which encompasses 1.9 million acres of high desert terrain in south-central Utah. This vast and rugged region, part of the National Landscape Conservation System administered by the Bureau of Land Management, was the last major area in the lower 48 states to be formally mapped by cartographers. Today GSENM is the largest national monument in the United States. Sampson added that, "Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is now one of the country's last great, largely unexplored dinosaur boneyards."

For most of the Late Cretaceous, exceptionally high sea levels flooded the low-lying portions of several continents around the world. In North America, a warm, shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway extended from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, subdividing the continent into eastern and western landmasses, known as Appalachia and Laramidia, respectively. Whereas little is known of the plants and animals that lived on Appalachia, the rocks of Laramidia exposed in the Western Interior of North America have generated a plethora of dinosaur remains. Laramidia was less than one-third the size of present day North America, approximating the area of Australia.

Most known Laramidian dinosaurs were concentrated in a narrow belt of plains sandwiched between the seaway to the east and mountains to the west. Today, thanks to an abundant fossil record and more than a century of collecting by paleontologists, Laramidia is the best known major landmass for the entire Age of Dinosaurs, with dig sites spanning from Alaska to Mexico. Utah was located in the southern part of Laramidia, which has yielded far fewer dinosaur remains than the fossil-rich north. The world of dinosaurs was much warmer than the present day; Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops lived in a subtropical swampy environment about 100 km from the seaway.

Beginning in the 1960's, paleontologists began to notice that the same major groups of dinosaurs seemed to be present all over this Late Cretaceous landmass, but different species of these groups occurred in the north (for example, Alberta and Montana) than in the south (New Mexico and Texas). This finding of "dinosaur provincialism" was very puzzling, given the giant body sizes of many of the dinosaurs together with the diminutive dimensions of Laramidia. Currently, there are five giant (rhino-to-elephant-sized) mammals on the entire continent of Africa. Seventy-six million years ago, there may have been more than two dozen giant dinosaurs living on a landmass about one-quarter that size.

Mark Loewen asks, "How could so many different varieties of giant animals have co-existed on such a small chunk of real estate?" One option is that there was a greater abundance of food during the Cretaceous. Another is that dinosaurs did not need to eat as much, perhaps because of slower metabolic rates more akin to those of modern day lizards and crocodiles than to those of mammals and birds. Whatever the factors permitting the presence of so many dinosaurs, it appears that some kind of barrier near the latitude of northern Utah and Colorado limited the exchange of dinosaur species north and south. Possibilities include physical barriers such as mountains, or climatic barriers that resulted in distinct northern and southern plant communities. Testing of these ideas have been severely hampered by a dearth of dinosaurs from the southern part of Laramidia. The new fossils from GSENM are now filling that major gap.

During the past decade, crews from the University of Utah and several partner institutions (e.g., the Utah Geologic Survey, the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology, and the Bureau of Land Management) have unearthed a new assemblage of more than a dozen dinosaurs in GSENM. In addition to Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops, the collection includes a variety of other plant-eating dinosaurs -- among them duck-billed hadrosaurs, armored ankylosaurs, and dome-headed pachycephalosaurs -- together with carnivorous dinosaurs great and small, from "raptor-like" predators to mega-sized tyrannosaurs (not T. rex but rather its smaller-bodied relatives). Also recovered have been fossil plants, insect traces, clams, fishes, amphibians, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, and mammals, offering a direct glimpse into this entire ancient ecosystem. Most remarkable of all is that virtually every identifiable dinosaur variety found in GSENM turns out to be new to science, offering dramatic confirmation of the dinosaur provincialism hypothesis. Many of these animals are still under study, but two have been previously named: the giant duck-billed hadrosaur Gryposaurus monumentensis and the raptor-like theropod Hagryphus giganteus.

Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops are part of a recent spate of ceratopsian dinosaur discoveries. Andrew Farke, another of the paper's authors, stated, "The past year has been a remarkable one for horned dinosaurs, with several new species named. The new Utah creatures are the icing on the cake, showing anatomy even more bizarre than typically expected for a group of animals known for its weird skulls."

Clearly many more dinosaurs remain to be unearthed in southern Utah. "It's an exciting time to be a paleontologist," Sampson added. "With many new dinosaurs still discovered each year, we can be quite certain that plenty of surprises still await us out there."

Gigantic fossils of ‘Predator X’ found in the Arctic

A massive pliosaur has been found in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The creature’s estimated bite was over 10 times more powerful than that found in any modern animal – and four times the bite of a T-Rex

The giant fossilised Jurassic-era marine reptile was found on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The sea monster, nicknamed “Predator X”, is a 15-metre-long pliosaur with enormous jaws. The power of its bite would make even T-Rex look feeble, as reported by Reuters quoting scientists from the Natural History Museum of Oslo University.

“With a skull that's more than 10 feet long you'd expect the bite to be powerful, but this is off the scale,” said Joern Hurum, an associate professor of vertebrate paleontology who led the international excavation in 2008.

Pliosaurs are carnivorous marine reptiles from the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. Some of their species appear to be the largest marine reptiles to have ever existed
The Museum’s scientists reconstructed the predator’s head and, with the help of colleagues from Florida State University, estimated the bite power by comparing it with the similarly-shaped jaws of alligators. Their results were astonishing: “The calculation is one of the largest bite forces ever calculated for any creature,” they said.

Predator X's bite was over 10 times more powerful than in any modern species of shark, crocodile or alligator. Moreover, it was four times the bite of the famous T-Rex – a giant terrestrial meat-eating dinosaur.

The scientists reconstructed the reptile, which belongs to a new species of pliosaur, from a partial skull and 20,000 fragments of skeleton. It had impressive 30cm-long teeth and a body weight of approximately 45 metric tons. Being similar in length to the largest pliosaur species to date found on Svalbard in 2007, Predator X is distinguished by having larger bones.

The scientists believe that the first fossilised pliosaur was big enough to chomp on a small car. Predator X could more likely crush a Hummer, said Dr. Harum, referring to General Motors' massive 4x4.

Unlike its enormous body size, the pliosaur had a small brain shaped like that found in a great white shark, as revealed by Patrick Druckenmiller of the University of Alaska.

Pliosaurs are closely related to plesiosaurs and are characterized by having a much shorter neck and elongated head. Both had four huge flippers to propel themselves. Different species ranged in length from 4 to 15 metres, preying on squid-like animals, fish, and other marine reptiles, including ichthyosaurs and other plesiosaurs.

Dug for Bugs – World’s first one Fingered Dinosaur Found in Mongolia

Looking more like a science experiment gone wrong, it’s difficult to tell exactly what those two appendages sticking out from the chest area of this little dinosaur are.
According to National Geographic, this parrot-sized dinosaur recently unearthed in north-eastern China, has been discovered with just one enlarged “digging” finger on each hand.
Not including modern birds, which are dinosaurs that have modified the lone claws on each of their hands into part of their wings, this tiny one-fingered bug-eating dinosaur is a first for palaeontologists. The beast marks the only dinosaur known to date to sport just a single digit on each hand.
The new dinosaur was discovered in a fossil-rich rock formation that dates to the late Cretaceous period, between 84 and 75 million years ago. The site is near the Inner Mongolian town of Linhe, which helped inspire the dinosaur’s name…Linhenykus.
Unfortunately the artist’s rendition is utter garbage – if the one-clawed hands were used for digging, they’d at least need arms! The painting makes it look like it’s just really really cold outside (if you know what I mean).
What’s he gonna do, rub its chest on the ground to dig for bugs?

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Artist: John Bindon
Medium: Acrylic on Board
Date: 1996
John Bindon's image of Tyrannosaurus Rex is foreboding and suggestive of the decline of the giant dinosaurs at the close of the Cretaceous. This extinction of dinosaurs, although scientific dogma for decades, is now recognized as taxonomic illusion. Today it is clear that dinosaurs are not extinct at all. Rather theropod dinosaurs are represented by one of the most diverse lineages of vertebrates--the birds.