'Alien horned' dinosaur roamed earth 80 mln years ago
Paleontologists have discovered fossils of a new 2-ton, 20-foot-long horned dinosaur in Canada that roamed the Earth about 80 million years ago.
The dinosaur, a distant cousin of Triceratops called Xenoceratops foremostensis, is one of the oldest specimens known to date of the ceratopsid group.
The beast's name, Xenoceratops, translates to "alien horned-face," referring to its strange pattern of horns on its head and above its brow, and the rarity of such horned dinosaurs in this part of the fossil record.
"It seems to have the general types of ornamentation that we see taken to even greater extremes in later ceratopsids," Huffington Post quoted David Evans, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum as saying.
"That suggests the elaborate headgear evolved earlier," he said.
Xenoceratops (meaning "alien horned-face") had massive spikes at the top of its head, two hooks jutting from its forehead, and a ruffled shield around its neck.
In 1958, paleontologist Wann Langston Jr. discovered fragments of three skulls (now known to belong to Xenoceratops) in a rock formation in the badlands of Alberta, Canada.
Though the area is now scrubby woodlands filled with hoodoos and sandstone hills, between 77 million and 90 million years ago, the dinosaur's stomping grounds were part of a river system filled with lush vegetation.
Xenoceratops was about the size of a rhinoceros - about 20 feet (6 meters) long including the tail - and weighed about 2 tons, Evans said.
The dinosaur used its birdlike beak to graze on the cattails, ferns and flowers in primeval river deltas.
The species most distinct feature, however, is its spiky head: Two hooks jutting from its forehead, two massive spikes rest at the top of its head and a frilly shield adorns its neck.
The new species helps fill in a gap in the evolutionary record, Andrew Farke, a paleontologist at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California said.
The stags of the dinosaur world, male Xenoceratops probably used their outlandish headgear to show dominance or impress the females, increasing their odds of reproducing, Evans said.
The findings are published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (CJES).