This Gnarly New Ceratops Has the Earliest Example of a Face Horn

Wendiceratops is awesome and terrifying.

Jul 8 2015, 6:00pm

Image: Secret Location

Paleontologists just uncovered a treasure trove of more than 200 bones from a new species of dinosaur found in Alberta, Canada, and it's a doozy: the animal, called Wendiceratops, boasts a massive crown of gnarly, hook-like horns and the earliest example of a big 'ole face horn among horned dinos like Triceratops.

Beyond looking completely badass, Wendiceratops gives paleontologists important insight into how face horns developed among the dinos that have them. It lived around 79 million years ago, which suggests that nose horns in separate dino species actually evolved independently from one another, and very rapidly.

"The development of these horns and hooks progresses as the animal grows up. It's also different between species," said David Evans, who discovered Wendiceratops with his colleague Michael Ryan. "What that tells us is that these horns were particularly important in social signalling, rather than in defense, as they were originally hypothesized 100 years ago." The pair's work was published today on PLOS One.

Image: Bryan Boyle, ROM

According to Evans, it was easy to classify Wendiceratops as a new species due to the sheer completeness of the skeleton and skull, for one, and because the look of horns among dinos changes based on their species. "The reason that we can identify a new species based on the hooks and horns on their skulls is because that's probably how the species recognized each other on a landscape of other horned dinosaur species," Evans said.

Wendiceratops was found in a bone bed in the Oldman Formation in southern Alberta, which has fewer fossils than other areas of Alberta, but much older rocks. While it's perhaps more of a risk to dig for dinos there, Evans said, he and Ryan have discovered five new dinosaur species there in the past five years. Not a bad track record.

Reconstruction: Secret Location. GIF: Author

Despite Wendiceratops' completeness, there are a few unknowns about what it actually looked like. The reconstruction of the horn was based on three separate horn fragments, but the most complete example of the three nonetheless indicates that the dino had a huge, deadly-looking horn on its face. We just don't quite know what it looked like. A key bone that forms the upper part of the eye socket is also missing, Evans said, although they hope to find it in another dig next week.

With more bones hopefully on the way, Wendiceratops could end up looking more rad and war-like than it already does.