Palaeontologists in Utah on Wednesday said they hadfound the fossil of a strange horned dinosaur which roamed an islandcontinent known as Laramidia.
|A Triceratops greets visitors at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles on July 7, 2011|
Dubbed Nasotoceratops titusi, the creature lived during the Late Cretaceous about 76 million years ago.
It belonged to the family of herbivore ceratops dinos, of which the famous triple-horned triceratops was a member.
N. titusi is “remarkable” even for a ceratops, according to the researchers.
Its skull — uncovered nearly intact — comprised an oversized snout,extraordinarily long, blade-like horns that pitched forward over theeyes, and a trademark bony frill at the base of the head.
From horntip to tailtip, it was about four metres (14 feet) long.
All ceratopsids have greatly enlarged nose regions, but Nasutoceratops is a champion.
Why, though, is unclear.
“The jumbo-sized schnoz of Nasutoceratops likely had nothing to dowith a heightened sense of smell, since olfactory receptors occurfurther back in the head, adjacent to the brain,” said Scott Sampson ofthe University of Utah.
“The function of this bizarre feature remains uncertain.”
His colleague, Mark Loewen, said the dino’s “amazing horns” “weremost likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn’tenough, as weapons for combatting rivals.”
The evidence provides more tantalising details about a27-million-year spell in the Late Cretaceous when high temperaturesmelted global icecaps and forced up sea levels, says the study.
The ocean spilled into central North America, leaving two big landmasses riding above a warm, shallow sea.
One, in the east, has been called Appalachia, while anAustralia-sized landmass in the west, running from Alaska all the waydown to Mexico, has been named Laramidia, according to a 17-year-oldtheory.
Laramidia was a stomping ground for dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurs,hadrosaurs, dromaeosaurids and troodoontids have all been found there.Alberta, Montana and Alaska have provided rich finds of ceratopses.
The unusual shape of N. titusi shows how giant species differentiatedto fit in to a local habitat, a process called provincialism, says thestudy.
At present, there are five giant (rhino-to-elephant-sized) mammals on the entire continent of Africa.
But in the late Cretaceous, there may have been more than two dozenhuge species of dinosaurs living on a landmass about one-quarter thatsize.
“We’re still working to figure out how so many different kinds ofgiant animals managed to co-exist on such a small landmass,” notedLoewen. N. titusi’s monicker is a hybrid of Greek and Latin meaninglarge-nosed and horned-faced.
It also honours Alan Titus, a pioneer in palaentology at the GrandStaircase-Escalante National Monument, comprising 760,000 hectares (1.9million acres) of high desert terrain in south-central Utah, where thefossil was found in 2006.
The research is published in the British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.