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

Amateur paleontologist finds rare fossil of fish in Arizona

September 3, 2015

Growing up, Stephanie Leco often would dig in her backyard and imagine finding fossils of a tyrannosaurus rex. She was fascinated with the idea of holding something in her hand that was millions of years old and would give ...

X-rays reveal fossil secrets

September 3, 2015

A sophisticated imaging technique has allowed scientists to virtually peer inside a 10-million-year-old sea urchin, uncovering a treasure trove of hidden fossils.

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

0 comments

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.