Team Discovers New Dinosaur Species From Montana

October 30, 2009
Tatankacephalus cooneyorum. (illustration by William Parsons)

A husband and wife team of American paleontologists has discovered a new species of dinosaur that lived 112 million years ago during the early Cretaceous of central Montana.

The new dinosaur, a species of ankylosaur, is documented in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. Ankylosaurs are the biological version of an army tank. They are protected by a plate-like armour with two sets of sharp spikes on each side of the head, and a skull so thick that even 'raptors' such as Deinonychus could leave barely more than a scratch.

Bill and Kris Parsons, Research associates of the Buffalo Museum of Science, found much of the skull of the newly described Tatankacephalus cooneyorum resting on the surface of a hillside in 1997. Because the skull was 90% complete, it was possible to justify this fossil as a new species.

"This is the first member of Ankylosauridae to be found within the Early Cretaceous Cloverly Geologic Formation," said Bill Parsons, who characterized the fossil as a transitional evolutionary form between the earlier Jurassic ankylosaurs and the better known Late Cretaceous ankylosaurs.

The skull is heavily protected by two sets of lateral horns, two thick domes at the back, and smaller thickenings around the nasal region. "Heavy ornamentation and horn-like plates would have covered most of the dorsal surface of this dinosaur" said Bill Parsons.

"For years, Bill and Kris have been collecting fossils from a critical time in Earth's history, and their hard work has paid off," said Lawrence Witmer, professor of at Ohio University who was not involved with this study. "This is a really important find and gives us a clearer view of the evolution of armored . But this is just the first; I'm sure, of what will be a series of important discoveries from this team."

Parsons also illustrated the dermal armour of this new species based on the theory by Museum of the Rockies John R. Horner that there was an outer keratinous sheathing on it as found in modern turtle shells and bird beaks. In his new reconstruction, Parsons suggests that Tatankacephalus exhibited complex and colorful patterns rather than the dull appearance suggested in earlier ankylosaur portraits. "According to Horner's theory, many other dinosaurs also had this kind of sheathing and also may have been diversely colored" said Parsons.

As to its name, the broad, short horns on the back of its skull resemble the horns found on a modern buffalo and Tatankacephalus loosely translates as 'Buffalo head.' Parsons also noted, "of course any further allusions to the city of Buffalo are completely intentional as well".

Bill Parsons works as a teacher at the Gow School in South Wales, NY, and as scientific illustrator for the Buffalo Museum of Science. He is also freelance dinosaur illustrator whose images have appeared on the covers of Science, Nature, Time and Newsweek. The publication of Tatankacephalus may be the first time that an established dinosaur illustrator has discovered, prepared, researched, and published on a new dinosaur taxon.

Source: Buffalo Museum of Science

Explore further: Smallest Triceratops skull described

Related Stories

Smallest Triceratops skull described

March 6, 2006

A cast of a foot-long skull from the youngest Triceratops dinosaur every discovered is now on display at the University of California-Berkeley.

Dinosaur named after Hogwarts School

May 22, 2006

A new dinosaur species -- Dracorex hogwartsia -- named in honor of author J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books, went on display Monday in Indianapolis.

Recommended for you

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.