Oldest horned dinosaur species in North America found in Montana

December 10, 2014
An artist's reconstruction of Aquilops in its environment in ancient Montana Credit: Copyright Brian Engh, courtesy of Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology.

Scientists have named the first definite horned dinosaur species from the Early Cretaceous in North America, according to a study published December 10, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Andrew Farke from Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and colleagues.

The limited fossil record for neoceratopsian—or horned dinosaurs—from the Early Cretaceous in North America restricts scientists' ability to reconstruct the early evolution of this group. The authors of this study have discovered a dinosaur skull in Montana that represents the first horned dinosaur from the North American Early Cretaceous that they can identify to the species level.

The authors named the dinosaur Aquilops americanus, which exhibits definitive neoceratopsian features and is closely related to similar species in Asia. The skull is comparatively small, measuring 84 mm long, and is distinguished by several features, including a strongly hooked rostral bone, or beak-like structure, and an elongated and sharply pointed cavity over the cheek region. When alive, the authors estimate it was about the size of a crow.

This discovery, combined with neoceratopsian fossil records from elsewhere, allows the authors to support a late Early Cretaceous (~113-105 million years ago) intercontinental migratory event between Asia and North America, as well as support for a complex set of migratory events for organisms between North America and Asia later in the Cretaceous. However, to better reconstruct the timing and mode of these events, additional fieldwork will be necessary.

"Aquilops lived nearly 20 million years before the next oldest named from North America," said Andrew Farke. "Even so, we were surprised that it was more closely related to Asian animals than those from North America."

A fossil skull of Aquilops americanus. Credit: Andrew A. Farke

Explore further: New species of dinosaur discovered lying forgotten in a museum

More information: Farke AA, Maxwell WD, Cifelli RL, Wedel MJ (2014) A Ceratopsian Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western North America, and the Biogeography of Neoceratopsia. PLoS ONE 9(12): e112055. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112055

Related Stories

New horned dinosaur reveals unique wing-shaped headgear

June 18, 2014

Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur (ceratopsian) based on fossils collected from Montana in the United States and Alberta, Canada. Mercuriceratops (mer-cure-E-sare-ah-tops) gemini was approximately 6 meters ...

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

September 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State University and Brigham ...

Scientists name two new species of horned dinosaur

March 12, 2012

Two new horned dinosaurs have been named based on fossils collected from Alberta, Canada. The new species, Unescopceratops koppelhusae and Gryphoceratops morrisoni, are from the Leptoceratopsidae family of horned dinosaurs. ...

Recommended for you

New ancient otter species among largest ever found

January 23, 2017

Dr. Denise Su, curator and head of paleobotany and paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was co-author on new research that described a species of otter new to science and that is among the largest otter ...

Major Viking Age manor discovered at Birka, Sweden

January 19, 2017

During spring of 2016 a number of large presumed house terraces were identified by the authors at Korshamn. As a consequence high resolution geophysical surveys using ground-penetrating radar were carried out in September ...

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.