New horned dinosaur announced nearly 100 years after discovery

December 6, 2011
"Artist's restoration of the head of Spinops sternbergorum." Credit: Copyright Dmitry Bogdanov, courtesy of Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. Usage restrictions: This image may be used by news organizations in reports describing the research of Farke and colleagues on Spinops.

A new species of horned dinosaur was announced today by an international team of scientists, nearly 100 years after the initial discovery of the fossil.

The animal, named Spinops sternbergorum, lived approximately 76 million years ago in southern Alberta, Canada. Spinops was a plant-eater that weighed around two tons when alive, a smaller cousin of Triceratops. A single large horn projected from the top of the nose, and a bony neck frill sported at least two long, backward-projecting spikes as well as two forward-curving hooks. These unique structures distinguish Spinops from related horned dinosaurs.

"Artist's rendering of the skull bones of Spinops sternbergorum." Credit: Copyright Lukas Panzarin, courtesy of Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. Usage restrictions: This image may be used by news organizations in reports describing the research of Farke and colleagues on Spinops.

"I was amazed to learn the story behind these specimens, and how they went unstudied for so long," said Andrew Farke, Augustyn Family Curator of Paleontology at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, and lead author on the study naming Spinops. "This animal is an important addition to our understanding of horned dinosaur diversity and evolution," Farke continued.

Parts of the skulls of at least two Spinops were discovered in 1916 by Charles H. and Levi Sternberg, a father-and-son fossil collecting team. The Sternbergs recognized that their find represented a new species and sent the fossils to The (London). However, the fossils were deemed too scrappy for exhibit, and consequently were shelved for decades. It wasn't until recognized the importance of the fossil that the bones were finally cleaned for study.

"This study highlights the importance of museum collections for understanding the history of our planet," commented Farke. "My colleagues and I were pleasantly surprised to find these fossils on the museum shelf, and even more astonished when we determined that they were a previously of dinosaur."

The name Spinops sternbergorum (pronounced "SPIN-ops stern-berg-OR-uhm") means "Sternbergs' spine face", referring to the of the animal and honoring the original discoverers of the fossil. Although the face of Spinops is similar to its close relatives Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus, the unique anatomy of the bony neck frill gives scientists better insight into how this structure evolved. In particular, the fossils of Spinops clarify the identification of the long frill spikes common in some horned dinosaurs. Previously, scientists had inferred that these spikes evolved only once in the group. Careful study of Spinops, however, suggests that its spikes are located in a different position from that seen in most other , implying that the structures evolved independently. This finding allows a more accurate reconstruction of evolutionary relationships, and is being tested with additional study.

Explore further: Ancient wounds reveal Triceratops battles

More information: Farke, A. A., M. J. Ryan, P. M. Barrett, D. H. Tanke, D. R. Braman, M. A. Loewen, and M. R. Graham. 2011. A new centrosaurine from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada, and the evolution of parietal ornamentation in horned dinosaurs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56(4). doi:10.4202/app.2010.0121

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