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Dinosaur with huge, blade-like horns discovered in Montana

A team of researchers led by paleontologists Joseph Sertich from Colorado State University and Mark Loewen from the University of Utah has recently described a newly discovered dinosaur species named Lokiceratops rangiformis

This dinosaur, whose name translates to “Loki’s horned face that looks like a caribou” was discovered in northern Montana in 2019 and is the largest centrosaurine found in North America, measuring 22 feet long and weighing 11,000 pounds. 

The Norse god of deception 

The dinosaur’s distinctive curving blade-like horns on the back of its frill and asymmetrical horns on the peak of the frill are reminiscent of caribou antlers.

“The dinosaur now has a permanent home in Denmark, so we went with a Norse god, and in the end, doesn’t it just really look like Loki with the curving blades?” said Loewen, referring to the trickster god’s weapon of choice. 

Ceratopsian headgear diversity

Lokiceratops, displayed at the Natural History Museum of Utah, shows that dinosaur horns, like feathers on birds, were likely used for species recognition or mate selection.

The experts reconstructed Lokiceratops from fragments, revealing its unique horns. This discovery adds to the understanding of ceratopsian headgear diversity. 

“This new dinosaur pushes the envelope on bizarre ceratopsian headgear, sporting the largest frill horns ever seen in a ceratopsian,” Sertich said.

Living 78 million years ago alongside four other dinosaur species in Laramidia, Lokiceratops highlights an “unheard-of diversity” similar to modern-day East Africa’s horned ungulates. 

Geographical limitations of Lokiceratops 

Unlike today’s wide-ranging large wild mammals, these ancient animals were geographically limited, suggesting rapid species evolution in small areas, a phenomenon sometimes seen in birds. 

“High regional endemism in centrosaurs is associated with, and may have been driven by, high speciation rates and diversity, with competition between dinosaurs limiting their geographic range,” noted the researchers.

“High speciation rates may in turn have been driven in part by sexual selection or latitudinally uneven climatic and floral gradients. The high endemism seen in centrosaurines and other dinosaurs implies that dinosaur diversity is underestimated and contrasts with the large geographic ranges seen in most extant mammalian megafauna.”

By the time Triceratops appeared 12 million years later, regional differences had homogenized into just two horned dinosaur species from Canada to Mexico, possibly due to a more uniform climate.

Family tree of horned dinosaurs 

This study, published in the journal PeerJ, also provides the most complete family tree of horned dinosaurs to date. 

“Lokiceratops helps us understand that we are only scratching the surface when it comes to the diversity and relationships within the family tree of horned dinosaurs,” Loewen concluded.

Centrosaurines during the Late Cretaceous

Centrosaurines are a subfamily of ceratopsid dinosaurs that lived during the Late Cretaceous period. They are known for their distinctive skull ornamentation, which typically includes a large nasal horn, smaller brow horns, and elaborate frills at the back of their heads adorned with various spikes and projections. 

These dinosaurs were primarily herbivorous, feeding on the lush vegetation of their time. Fossils of centrosaurines have been found predominantly in North America, particularly in the regions that are now Alberta, Canada, and the western United States. 

They are an important group for understanding ceratopsid diversity and evolution, with well-known genera including Centrosaurus, Styracosaurus, and Pachyrhinosaurus. 

Centrosaurines likely lived in herds and exhibited complex social behaviors, as suggested by the large bone beds where multiple individuals have been discovered together.

More about dinosaur horns

Dinosaur horns served various functions, such as defense, display, and species recognition. 

Among the most famous horned dinosaurs are the ceratopsians, including Triceratops, which had three facial horns. These horns could have been used in combat with predators or rivals, as well as in courtship displays to attract mates. 

The arrangement and size of horns varied significantly among different species. Some dinosaurs, like Styracosaurus, had elaborate horn arrangements with multiple spikes projecting from their frills. These horns and frills could also help identify members of the same species, aiding in social cohesion within herds. 

The presence of horns on dinosaurs indicates the diverse evolutionary adaptations these animals developed to survive in their environments.

Image Credit: Fabrizio Lavezzi


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