Tag Archives: triceratops

Fossil Friday: largest triceratops skeleton ever found sold at auction in Paris

The largest triceratops skeleton ever found, a specimen christened “Big John”, has been sold at an auction in Paris for a record price: €6.65m ($7.74m).

Big John on display at the Drouot auction house in Paris.

Big John was unearthed in South Dakota, US, in 2014, and it was a stunning discovery indeed. It is the largest example of its species to have ever been discovered, and around 60% of its bones were recovered at the site, making it a relatively complete skeleton.

Big purchases

After being re-assembled by specialists in Trieste, Italy, the skeleton was put up for display at the Drouot auction house in Paris last week. The buyer, a private collector from the US who chose to remain anonymous, said through representatives that they were “absolutely thrilled with the idea of being able to bring a piece like this to his personal use”.

Triceratops were tri-horned, plant-eating dinosaurs who lived during the Cretaceous period some 66 million years ago. Their fossils are quite rare, complete specimens even more so, and complete triceratops skulls are exceedingly rare. This, alongside the size, makes Big John definitely stand out among other fossils of its kind.

The fossil was found in an area that, during the Cretaceous, was a floodplain. Its body was quickly encased in mud after the animal died, which helped preserve it. While researchers found no indications of exactly what led to the dinosaur’s death, there are signs of damage on the skull. The working theory so far is that Big John, despite his size, had been defeated by another dinosaur in battle.

The sale does, however, call into discussion the ethics of commercializing dinosaur fossils. Demand from private investors is already leading to an increase in the price of fossils, one which museums around the world are struggling to match. There is a very real risk that at some point, museums might not be able to afford fossils to showcase altogether.

The high price fetched by Big John makes this trend painfully obvious.

Triceratops may have had horns to advertise good genes and attract mates

Much like a peacock flaunts its brightly colored tail, ancient Triceratops would have used their massive horns to attract mates, a new study suggests.

Image credits: Nobu Tamura / Wikipedia.

Despite its ferocious appearance, the triceratops was a gentle, herbivorous giant. This dinosaur emerged during the late Cretaceous, some 68 million years ago, being one of the last known genera of dinosaurs (not considering birds, which are still technically dinosaurs). The most noticeable features of the triceratops are the armored frill and the three horns on its head. Paleontologists have long debated and speculated on the purpose of these features.

For starters, it seems very plausible that they served as an armor and defense, as was first proposed more than 100 years ago by amateur paleontologist C. H. Sternberg. There’s some evidence supporting this theory: researchers have found fossil evidence of battles between triceratops and tyrannosaurs, with the triceratops coming on top despite suffering serious wounds. But most paleontologists believe that while the triceratops got in a scrap every now and then, defense wasn’t the principal purpose of these features.

Some scientists have proposed that triceratops males locked horns with each other in a duel, fighting over the right to mate with females. However, there’s not much in the fossil record to support this theory. Another idea is that the horns were used to differentiate between species — it’s not always easy to tell if someone is the same species as you, and no one really wants to waste time and effort only to mate with the wrong species. However, a new study found this isn’t really the case.

“We find no support for the hypothesis that sympatry correlates with higher ornament divergence in ceratopsian dinosaurs,” the authors wrote in the recent study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

So if it’s not defense, it’s not for duels, and it’s not for identifying your species… what’s left? Well, as it’s so often the case in the biological world, the one promising thing that’s left is sexual advertising. In other words, in this new study, researchers say triceratops grew horns to advertise their strength and good genes in an attempt to sway mates.

“Individuals are advertising their quality or genetic make-up,” explained Andrew Knapp, lead author of the research reports. “We see that in peacocks too, with their tail feathers.”

They also found that both males and females had similarly developed horns, which is impressive in itself — although it’s always hard to discuss an animal’s behavior from fossils alone, this says quite a bit about their behavior, indicating similar lifestyles between males and females.

“Possibly they’re both quite invested in raising their young, like we see in birds,” concluded Mr. Knapp.

Journal Reference: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone. Patterns of divergence in the morphology of ceratopsian dinosaurs: sympatry is not a driver of ornament evolution. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0312

triceratops reconstruction

Stunning triceratops fossil discovered by chance on construction site

A gargantuan Triceratops fossil was unearthed in Colorado. Paleontologists were thrilled to discover the 2,000-kilogram — 4,460-pound — giant at a construction site in Thornton.


Few dinosaurs stand as impressive as the armored Triceratops. Their tank-like appearance, the bony frill, and three horns make for an easily recognizable beast, and the mighty Triceratops is a star among dinosaurs. So it’s easy to understand why Joe Sertich, a Curator of Dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, was so excited when he learned of the fossil.

“My heart was racing,” says DMNS Curator of Dinosaurs Joe Sertich. “I realized it was a pretty important dinosaur find.”

It’s a comprehensive find, a full or almost full skeleton. It was uncovered in a patch of loose sand, which facilitate excavation. At first, the finding was kept secret but then, a part of it was even live-streamed on Facebook.

“This is probably one of only three skulls of triceratops found along the Front Range area,” says Sertich.

triceratops reconstruction

This is how Triceratops probably looked like. Credits: Nobu Tamura.

Most findings in the area come from a completely geological era, from the Ice Age — just 10 to 12 thousand years ago. But the Triceratops fought the T-Rex some 66 million years ago, and that’s likely when it encountered the unhappy fate which preserved it so well for paleontologists to find.

“This dinosaur has been laying here for at least 66-million years,” says Sertich. “I’m over the moon right now about this dinosaur fossil.”

This finding also poses some intriguing questions. The Triceratops stood up to three meters tall (9.8 feet) and 9 meters long (29.5 feet), weighing up to 12 tonnes (26,000 pounds). But this one, like previous findings from the area, is much smaller, and we don’t really know why. Previous fossils haven’t yielded much information about that, but this one might help put things into perspective.

“We don’t really know why,” he added. “Even though we have hundreds of triceratops from the American West, we only have three good skulls. And this might be one of the best skeletons to tell us why Denver triceratops are smaller than all of their cousins everywhere else.”

Also, since the bones are at least partly disaggregated, paleontologists believe the Triceratops was hunted and killed by a Tyrannosaur, its bones left to decay. If this is indeed the case, it could also help better understand the relationship between the two iconic dinosaurs.

The fossil is not visible from the street, but officials are working to provide the necessary resources to facilitate not only the study, but also the display of the fossil. You can check out the project at www.gocot.net/dinosaur.

Artist impression of Machairoceratops. Credit: MARK WITTON

Two new exotic-looking triceratops relatives found in Utah and Montana

Paleontologists have discovered two new triceratops relatives that simply looked amazing. One had two forward-curving spikes running from the back of its shield, in addition to the classic triceratops horns, while the other sported beautiful coloring akin to butterfly camouflage, but also a tragic life story.

Artist impression of Machairoceratops. Credit: MARK WITTON

Artist impression of Machairoceratops. Credit: MARK WITTON

Let’s start with Machairoceratops cronusi. It lived some 77 million years ago in the Cretacious period, grew to 26 feet (8 meters) long, and had five horns coming out of its shield, head and parrot-like beak. This very spiky shield, called a “frill”, was likely used for sexual display and mate competition, researchers say. The distinct frill also served to help dinosaurs of the same species recognize one another, the team reports in PLOS ONE.

Like its famous cousin, Machairoceratops c. was a plant eater. The dino was found in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by a team led by Ohio University paleontologist Eric Lund.

“An effort like this underscores both the necessity and excitement of basic, exploratory science in order to better understand the history of the world around us,” noted study co-author Patrick O’Connor, who is a professor of anatomical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Even in a place like western North America, where intense work has been conducted over the past 150 years, we are still finding species new to science,” he added.

Artist impression of Spiclypeus shipporum. Credit: Mike Skrepnick

Artist impression of Spiclypeus shipporum. Credit: Mike Skrepnick

The other horned dinosaur was discovered in Montana over a decade ago, but was only recently identified.

When Bill Shipp bought his new ranch over ten years ago, he hired an amateur paleontologist to teach him how to hunt fossils. He actually found one in the Judith River geological formation, another Triceratops relative called Spiclypeus shipporum which lived 76 million years ago.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How did you find it?’ ” Shipp told the Associated Press “And I always say ‘I accidentally found it on purpose.’ I was actually looking for it with no expectations of finding anything. But there it was.”

Spiclypeus, the genus’ name, means “spiked shield”, while shipporum honors the Montana rancher who made the discovery.

It was only recently that a team of researchers from the Canadian Museum of Nature, led by paleontologist Jordan Mallon, actually identified the dinosaur as a new species to science. When it was alive, Judith — as the researchers christened this particular specimen — shared the conifers and fern prairies with only a couple other horned dinosaur species. Even so, its distinct orientation of horns and spikes on its massive frills made it stand like one in a million.

This particular specimen, named Judith, didn’t have an easy life. The upper bone in the front left leg bore clear signs of disease, likely arthritis, doubled by a bone infection.

“It’s an exciting story, because it’s a new species, and yet we have this sort of pathetic individual that suffered throughout its lifetime,” Mallon said. “If you’re hobbling along on three limbs, you’re probably not going to be able to keep up with the herd.”

Shipp found the dinosaur in an afternoon barely breaking a sweat, but only a couple of dinosaurs have been discovered in the Judith formation and not out of lack of trying. In the past century, many expeditions have been made in the area with little to show. As such, Spiclypeus shipporum is truly remarkable filling the missing puzzles that tell the story of how Cretaceous life was like in Montana.

Artist impression of Regaliceratops peterhewsi. Image: Julius T. Csotonyi/Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta

Paleontologist finds new horned-dinosaur species, calls it “Hellboy” then writes a marriage proposal in the paper

Canadian paleontologists discovered a new dinosaur which looks strikingly similar to the famous Triceratops. While the two are very similar in many respects, the new species stands out due to the  size and shape of its facial horns and the shield-like frill at the back of the skull. It also had a longer nose horn than Triceratops, and two small horns above its eyes. The radiating frill and pentagon-shaped plates must have made the dinosaur look like a crowned Triceratops. Once you consider this, it’s not surprising how the team named the new dinosaur Regaliceratops peterhewsi (regal is latin for royal, and Peter Hews is the paleontologist who first discovered the fossils).

Artist impression of Regaliceratops peterhewsi. Image: Julius T. Csotonyi/Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta

Artist impression of Regaliceratops peterhewsi. Image: Julius T. Csotonyi/Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta

In fact, it was almost ten years ago that Hews was strolling along the Oldman River in southeastern Alberta when his attention was grabbed by some weird looking bones sticking out of a cliff. It took a lot of careful excavation work and examination, but eventually he and colleagues realized they were on to something big.

“The specimen comes from a geographic region of Alberta where we have not found horned dinosaurs before. So from the onset we knew it was important,” said Dr Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada.

“When the full anatomy was uncovered, we realised it was obviously a new species and an unexpected one.”

The skull of Regaliceratops peterhewsi. Photo by Sue Sabrowski

The skull of Regaliceratops peterhewsi. Photo by Sue Sabrowski

Nicknamed “Hellboy,” the new dinosaur belongs to one of the two groups of horned dinosaurs known as Chasmosaurines, of which Triceratops is also a member. The other group is called Centrosaurines, which features dinosaurs who went extinct several million years before Chasmosaurines were wiped off the face of the world along with all other dinosaurs during the great extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, some 65 million years ago.

“This new species is a Chasmosaurine, but it has ornamentation more similar to Centrosaurines,” Brown said. “It also comes from a time period following the extinction of the Centrosaurines.”

This suggests that Hellboy may actually be the first evidence of evolutionary convergence in horned dinosaurs.

“This discovery also suggests that there are likely more horned dinosaurs out there that we just have not found yet, so we will also be looking for other new species,” Brown said.

Clearly, Regaliceratops peterhewsi is an important finding for paleontology, but also a special one for Brown, one of the lead authors of the study. After all, the dinosaur helped him propose to his girlfriend in the acknowledgements section of the paper published in Current Biology. In what’s perhaps the most adorable research paper ever, Brown wrote:

“C.M.B. would specifically like to highlight the ongoing and unwavering support of Lorna O’Brien. Lorna, will you marry me?”

Brown’s girlfriend, also a paleontologist, said yes.

“She was a bit astonished, speechless at first. I don’t think she fully comprehended the significance, but regardless of that she said yes, so that’s always a good answer,” Brown said.

Well, good going Brown! That’s the spirit.

 

New species of dinosaur discovered lying forgotten in a museum

Dr Nick Longrich from Bath University was studying bones from two horned dinosaurs from the ceratopsian family (related to Triceratops), when he discovered that the two were actually previously unknown species. The findings highlight that dinosaurs in area were more diverse than previously thought, and they also show that sometimes, museum archives can yield surprising information.

Pentaceratops aquiloniua (artistic representation)

“We thought we had discovered most of the species, but it seems there are many undiscovered dinosaurs left,” said Dr Nick Longrich from the University’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry. “There are lots of species out there. We’ve really only just scratched the surface.”

Ceratopsians were a group of herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs with elaborate facial horns and frills extending over the neck. The horns and frills served as a defense mechanism protecting the neck, but some paleontologists believed they also played a role in thermoregulation and display. Ceratopsians ranged in size from 1 meter (3 ft) and 23 kilograms (50 lb) to over 9 meters (30 ft) and 5,400 kg (12,000 lb). The most famous member of the family is Triceratops – who was very common in some parts of today’s America. Forty-seven complete or partial skulls were discovered in just that area during the decade 2000–2010.  Paleontologist John Scannella, not involved in this study observed:

“It is hard to walk out into the Hell Creek Formation and not stumble upon a Triceratops weathering out of a hillside.”

But some ceratopsians are more elusive – like the two species discovered by Longrich. The first one, Pentaceratops aquilonius is a smaller cousin of Triceratops with long brow horns, member of the chasmosaur family. About as big as a buffalo, it roamed the plains of today’s western North America 75 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. The other species represents a new species of Kosmoceratops. There is still some doubt whether or not it is a new species – new fossils would likely settle this case for good.

What we call today North America, especially in its western parts, hosted a great diversity of dinosaurs during the Cretaceous. The Cretaceous was a period with a relatively warm climate, with high sea levels and very gentle temperature gradient from the equator to the poles. Sediments showed that temperatures were higher than they are today.

Especially remarkable is the ceratopsian population in the area. Up until now, ten chasmosaur species have been recognized there alone, with different species in southern and eastern areas. Longrich proposes that distinct northern and southern provinces existed during the Campanian, but that there was exchange between them. Dinosaurs would move from one place to the other, and following different environmental pressures, they would then diverge to form new species. Longrich added:

“The distribution of dinosaur species was very different from the patterns seen in living mammals. In living mammals, there tend to be relatively few large species, and they have large ranges. With Cretaceous dinosaurs, we see a lot of large species in a single habitat. They also tend to be very regional – as you move from one habitat to another, you get a completely different set of species.”

This explains why paleontologists keep finding new species – and will likely find even more in the future. Longrich believes dinosaur biology may also play a key role in this.

“In this sense dinosaur biology seems quite different from mammal biology. It could be that mammals are more intelligent and so they tend to have more flexible behaviour, and adapt their behaviour to their habitats. On the other hand, dinosaurs may have had to adapt themselves physically to survive in a different habitat, and evolved new species. Perhaps that’s the reason why there are so many species.”

To me, this shows once again that many valuable findings still lie in museums, forgotten – or waiting to be discovered. I applaud the patience and inspiration of looking through old archives; sometimes, the results can be remarkable.

Journal Reference: Nicholas R. Longrich. The horned dinosaurs Pentaceratops and Kosmoceratops from the upper Campanian of Alberta and implications for dinosaur biogeography. Cretaceous Research, Volume 51, September 2014, Pages 292–308.

Via University of Bath.

Nasutoceratops: ‘Big-nose, horn-face’ dinosaur

A new, unusual species of dinosaur has been discovered in the deserts of Utah.

nasuceratops

Artistic representation of Nasuceratops. Credit: Raul Martin.

The 5m-long is a member of the triceratops family, and as fierce as they may look, this dinosaur was a herbivore. The huge ‘nose’ and exceptionally long horns are unlike any other dinosaurs previously described, which explains its name – Nasutoceratops titusi, which basically means big-nose, horn-face.

“This dinosaur just completely blew us away”, explained Dr Mark Loewen, from the University of Utah and Natural History Museum of Utah. “We would never have predicted it would look like this – it is just so outside of the norm for this group of dinosaurs.”

nasuceratops2

Credit: Rob Gaston.

The fossils were unearthed in 2006, but it took a long time for them to be prepared and for the study to finish. The rocks in which it was found are some 75 million years old, so we can trace its origins to the late Cretaceous. But its facial features draw all the attention.

“The horns are by far the absolute largest of any member of its group of dinosaurs – they curve sideways and forwards,” explained Dr Loewen. “In addition it has the biggest nose of its group too.”

The area in Utah where it was found once belonged in a continent called Laramidia – an island continent that existed during the Late Cretaceous period (99.6–65.5 Ma), when the Western Interior Seaway split the continent of North America in two. Laramidia stretches from modern-day Alaska to Mexico, and the area is typically very rich in dinosaur fossils.

Other plant-eating species, including two other kinds of horned dinosaurs and duck-billed hadrosaurs, were found close to Nasutoceratops titusi, suggesting that these creatures coexisted, eating tropical plants side by side for millions of years – which is kind of strange. These dinosaurs were really big, and they were fighting for the same food – how they got along with it is somewhat a mystery.

“All of these animals are upwards of three tonnes… You have an environment where you have all of these large herbivores competing for food. We aren’t really sure how you can support all of these animals, but you do find them all in the rock at the same time.”

Rare, nearly complete triceratops skeleton suggests family was important for them

Despite the fact that triceratops are some of the most well known dinosaurs, finding a complete skeletons is an extremely rare treat. It was one of the last non-avian dinosaur genera to appear before the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event – the extinction which caused the end of dinosaurs and the Mesozoic.

triceratops

The scientists from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research and Naturalis Biodiversity Center began work on the dig in early May, and now, they have potentially unearthed one of the most complete skeletons of a triceratops ever found.

“This triceratops could easily be one of the most complete in the world,” Larson said. “It only has to be 50 percent complete to be one of the top four most complete in the world.”

The dig also unearthed two other, smaller dinosaurs, which Larson said is also a rare occurrence. He said the three skeletons were most likely a family unit.

“The dig indicates that there was some sort of parental pair and nowhere in the literature has that ever been noted before, and that’s unprecedented,” he said.

Triceratops dinosaurs measured 7.9 – 9 meters in height, weighed 6-12 tons, and were herbivores. The most distinctive feature is their large skull, among the largest of all land animals. Hopefully, this finding, along with the other, two smaller skeletons, could complete what we know about the species.

“We should get a glimpse into these animals, especially since there was parental guidance,” Larson said. “Really there are very few triceratops skeletons that have been discovered, only three really good skeletons and many skeleton heads.”

Two ton “alien tank” dinosaur found – unlike any other

This spike-headed dinosaur roamer a much warmer Canada 78 million years ago, making it the earliest horned reptile ever.

“In terms of large-bodied ones that look like Triceratops, this is definitely the oldest,” said biologist Michael Ryan, lead author of the new study describing the dinosaur, published online Thursday by the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

The newfound dinosaur was a gentle giant, eating plants. Xenoceratops foremostensis — Latin for “alien horned-face from Foremost,” had long, sharp, spear-like horns thrusting from its head, but it used them mostly for defense (if it used them at all), much like the more famous Triceratops, which roamed the planet 15 million years later.

When the team found the fossils, they were pretty intrigued, so they set out to find other fossils belonging to the same area. They found their answer in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, finding some fossils from 1958, practically thrown away.

“In the museum we found … two large pieces of the frill, including one spike. As soon as I saw them, I recognized it as being different from every other horned dinosaur,” said Ryan, who heads the vertebrate paleontology division of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio.

Back then, Canada wasn’t the frozen land we see today, but it was a warm, tropical environment, filled with life. Xenoceratops would have been threatened by predators belonging in the same family as T-Rex. The development illustrates that dinosaurs got the massive horns much earlier than previously believed.

“Historically, what we know [about horned dinosaurs] comes from about 65 to 75 million years of age,” Ryan explained. “What we’ve done is push back the evolutionary origins by several million years.”

“We’re starting to see that, even though the endpoints of the two groups look very different from each other”, he said, referring to the Xenoceratops and Triceratops‘ different scientific subfamilies—for example, the descendants of Xenoceratops lacked long, Triceratops-like brow horns—”the ancestral forms of the two groups were very similar,” Ryan said.

Gryphoceratops morrisoni (down) and Unescoceratops koppelhusae (up). Though illustrated together here, it was highly unlikely the two ever met. Illustration by Julius T. Csotonyi.

Two new, small horned dinosaurs discovered

Gryphoceratops morrisoni (down) and Unescoceratops koppelhusae (up). Though illustrated together here, it was highly unlikely the two ever met. Illustration by Julius T. Csotonyi.

Gryphoceratops morrisoni (down) and Unescoceratops koppelhusae (up). Though illustrated together here, it was highly unlikely the two ever met. Illustration by Julius T. Csotonyi.

Paleontologists have recently named two new horned dinosaur species, closely related to the famous Triceratops, which were dug up from a site in Alberta, Canada some time ago. Dubbed Unescopceratops koppelhusae and Gryphoceratops morrisoni,  the dinosaurs are extremely tiny, as far as plant eating dinosaurs dating back from the late Cretaceous go, and belong to the Leptoceratopsidae family of horned dinosaurs.

Unescopceratops lived about 75 million years ago, had a short frill extending from behind its parrot-beaked head, and interestingly enough possessed a hatchet-shaped jaw. It was a very small animal, however, only measuring a meter in length and weighing less than 200 pounds. Compared to Gryphoceratops, though, he was a veritable giant!

Gryphoceratops wasn’t longer than two feet, based on the complete specimen unearthed by paleontologists, making him the smallest horned dinosaur discoverer so far in North America. It also had a shorter and deeper jaw shape than any other leptoceratopsid, its characteristic shape being what earned the dinosaur its name after gryphon, a mythological best with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle. Since the dinosaur lived 83 million years ago, it’s the oldest specimen belonging to the leptoceratopsids genus, shedding extra light on how this dinosaur species first arose in North America.

“These dinosaurs fill important gaps in the evolutionary history of small-bodied horned dinosaurs that lack the large horns and frills of relatives like Triceratops from North America,” said Michael Ryan, Ph.D., curator of vertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, lead author on the research. “Although horned dinosaurs originated in Asia, our analysis suggests that leptoceratopsids radiated to North America and diversified here, since the new species, Gryphoceratops, is the earliest record of the group on this continent.”

Cleveland Museum of Natural History via io9

Meet the horniest dinosaur ever

Fossil hunters have recently unearthed the fossil remains of a species that can easily claim the title of the horniest dinosaur ever to be found. Kosmoceratops lived some 76 million years ago, in the warm and wet swamps of (what is today) Utah; but what’s really fascinating about him is the fact that he has no less that 15 full size horns on its head.

The 15 horns Kosmoceratops had evolved as a form of sexual display. Reconstruction: Lukas Panzarin/PLoS

It’s skull was really huge for their body size (2 meters), and it probably weighed somewhere around 2.5 tonnes. The lesser known relative of the triceratops had a staggering 10 horns on the back of its head, as well as two over its eyes, one over its nose and one from each cheek bone

“These animals are basically oversized rhinos with a whole lot more horns on their heads. They had huge heads relative to their body size,” said Scott Sampson a researcher at the Utah Museum of Natural History

Scientists have long speculated about the purpose of so many horns, and they reached the conclusion that they can only play a decorative part in sexual rituals. So really, what title can be more appropriate than the “horniest dinosaur” ?

“In this case, we think these horns were really about competing for mates and more akin to peacock feathers or deer antlers, where it’s males trying to attract females or intimidate other males,” Sampson said. “Sometimes it’s good to have a way of visually ranking yourself relative to other animals. You can avoid unnecessary conflicts and that is probably what they were doing with all these bony bells and whistles.”

What was also interesting about this species was that females also showcase the same horny display. But paleontologists found an explanation for that too:

“The most obvious explanation is that the females don’t want predators to pick them off so they mimic the males,” he said.

Well the only thing I can add is… this is one nice species !

Triceratops and Torosaurus were in fact the same dinosaur

A recent study conducted by a Montana State University doctoral student and one of the world’s top paleontologists shed some new light on more than 100 years of thought regarding the dinosaurs known as Triceratops and Torsaurus. The general belief since the late 1800s was that they were two separate dinosaurs: Triceratops had three horns on its skull with a short frill, while Torosaurus had a way bigger frill that was also perforated by two large holes.

triceratops

The classic image of the Triceratpos is on the left - on the right is the image of the Torosaurus, the mature version of Triceratops. Credit: Artwork by Holly Woodward, MSU graduate student

However, MSU paleontologists John Scannella and Jack Horner claim that this is in fact the case of the same dinosaur, and two different stages of growth. This also backs up the rising theory that towards the end of their days, the dinosaurs’ diversity was almost depleted.

The confusion easily sets in because juvenile dinosaurs are not just smaller versions of the “big boys”. They had several significant differences, and especially their skulls changed radically as they grew up.

“Paleontologists are at a disadvantage because we can’t go out into the field and observe a living Triceratops grow up from a baby to an adult,” Scannella said. “We have to put together the story based on fossils. In order to get the complete story, you need to have a large sample of fossils from many individuals representing different growth stages.”

Their research forces paleontologists to further take into consideration the process of growth from a juvenile to an adult, called ontogeny, when they are judging morphological variations in different dinosaur species.

“Without considering changes in shape throughout ontogeny, we overestimate dinosaur diversity and hence produce an unrealistic view of the paleoecology of these animals,” Scannella said.

The thing is, Torosaurus specimens are much rarer than Triceratops and none of the Torosaurus fossils came from immature animals, so the obvious problem that comes in mind is why are the mature specimens much rarer than the younger ones?

“If Torosaurus is actually the mature form of Triceratops, we must ask why ‛Torosaurus’ specimens are relatively rare compared to Triceratops,” Scannella said. “It is possible that mortality was fairly high for Triceratops before they reached their fully mature morphology.”

In order to come to this conclusions, they examined over 50 Triceratops skulls, examining the length, width and thickness. Many thanks should also go to the numerous undergrads and volunteers from all around the world who participated in the project by discovering and excavating Triceratops specimens in the field, as well as to those who helped prepare the fossils.

“A major decline in diversity may have put the dinosaurs in a vulnerable state at the time when the large meteor struck the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period,” Scannella said. “It may have been the combination of the two factors — lower diversity and a major global catastrophe — that resulted in the extinction of all the non-avian dinosaurs.”

9 Dinosaurs that marked the planet

How the dinosaurs appeared is clear, but it’s not so clear how they dissapeared. One thing’s for sure, they ruled this planet for a significant amount of time. But how much truth is behind this avalanche of publicity and fiction, and which dinosaurs are the true leaders of these amazing lizards?? Here’s just a small list, by no means comprehensive of these vertebrates which dominated the earth for a period of about 160 millions of years. As a matter of fact, there are about 10 000 species of dinosaurs living today, but we know them as birds.

  • Amphicoelias fragillimus

There’s a really big chance this name won’t say anything to you; it didn’t to tell anything to scientists until a few years ago. Despite the fact that no full fossils have been found, it is widely regarded as the larges dinosaur to have ever lived, coming close to the biggest animal of all time, the blue whale. It’s believed to be the larges vertebrade, varying in length from 40 to 60 meters. The femur of Amphicoelias is unusually long, slender, and round in cross section, and it is very fragile, which is why scientists have nick named it the crumbling giant.

  • Velociraptor

Jumping from the biggest to a (relatively) small dinosaur, you’d never suspect that this “little” dinosaur was in fact the most feared predator for most dinosaur herbivores. Measuring about 2 meters, it walked on two legs and were similar in construction in many ways to birds. Actually, there are some reasons to believe that these dinosaurs were covered in feathers, which would mean that our perception of them could be totally wrong. If we were to see one of these cooperative hunters today, perhaps we would think that we are looking at a very strange bird.

  • Brachiosaurus

Brachiosaurus is another huge creature, actually the tallest of all dinosaurs. Its name means “armed lizard”, and it was named in this way because its forelimbs are bigger than the hind limbs. It is not certain if it was cold blooded or warm blooded, which leads to the fact that scientists are not sure how much it would take to mature (in the first case 100 years, in the second 10 years). It is believed that due to the size and the fact that it walked in herds, it had nothing to fear from even the biggest predators.

  • Tyrannosaurus rex

With a name that means tyrant king, T. Rex is the most known dinosaur in the world today, but not just due to its amazing characteristics. It had a huge massive had, which was balanced only by the huge tail in the back. Still, the general image of this creature is not accurate, because research showed that it was mostly a scavenger, hunting only on rare ocasions; still, that debate is not yet settled. This fact could have other implications, showing how well it could turn and how fast it could run. Still, it remains one of the biggest predators ever, and it’s definitely a badge for the jurassic period.

  • Spinosaurus aegyptiacus

T Rex may be the well known, but Spinosaurus was by far the biggest predator of all dinosaurs. The bad thing is that many remains have been destroyed so scientists are not very sure just what its appearance was, but they made some pretty accurate appreciations, using the few remains they found. This dinosaur had a sail which was formed of very tall neural spines growing on the back vertebra; these spines were huge, growing up to eleven times the height of the vertebrae from which they grew, reaching two meters. There is also some speculation that Spinosaurus was a fisher, but the most probable thing is that ate terrestrial and aquatic.

  • Triceratops

Triceratops was one of the latest herbivorous dinosaurs that appeared, and it’s very easy to recognize because of the horns which resemble a rhinoceros. Actually, the name means three horned. They probably had up to 9 meters, and the head could be to about a third of the body. The classic believe is that horns were used for defence against predators, but more recently, the theory is that they were used as to court the females, in a pretty similar way to deers or other horned animals today.

  • Ichthyosaur

It’s time to move to the aquatic dinosaurs; Ichthyosaurs in particular were giant marine reptiles that resembled fish and dolphins, reigning pretty much in all of the mesozoic period. That is until they were surpassed in efficiency by the plesiosaurs. Some species of Ichthyosaurs lived to huge sizes, up to 15 meters, but the latest ones were a bit smaller.

  • Plesiosaurs

Plesiosaurs were the best aquatic predators that the jurassic period had to show. Imposing in the dangerous waters of the age was by no means an easy task, and it truly required some amazing abilities. They developed and thrived with no real opposition, until the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, which occured approximately 65.5 million years ago. They had a small head and long neck, and were actually slow swimmers. But they used the neck to create really fast movements of the head, grabbing fish or cephalopods. Also, they presented an unbelievable evolutionary trait, four flippers, which gave them great mobility so they could rotate their body too.

  • Archaeopteryx

Archaeopteryx was not a dinosaur, but rather the link between dinosaurs and birds. Similar in size to modern day birds, it was just about 0.5 metres long. It has broad wings, feathers, and is able to fly, but it still has more in common with dinosaurs, such as jaws with sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, hyperextensible second toes (“killing claw”), feathers (which also suggest homeothermy), and various skeletal features. It is a key element in the evolutionary debate, and one of the most studied creatures of all time.