Friday, 11 December 2015

Meet Triceratops’ newest cousin: A horned dinosaur the size of a cocker spaniel

DECEMBER 10, 2015

by Brett Smith

The Triceratops is one of the more popular dinosaurs out there, and fans of the three-horned thunder lizard can rejoice as researchers recently discovered a close relative in the deserts of China.

Dubbed Hualianceratops wucaiwanensis, the newly-described dino was about the size of a cocker spaniel, stood on its hind legs, and ate only plants, according to a report published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Although Hualianceratops was hornless, it is considered a part of the horned dinosaur family Ceratops. The same group found a similar hornless Ceratops dinosaur in 2002 called Yinlong downsi.

“Finding these two species in the same fossil beds reveals there was more diversity there than we previously recognized,” study author Catherine Forster, professor of biology at George Washington University, said in a statement. “It suggests that the ceratopsian dinosaurs already had diversified into at least four lineages by the beginning of the Jurassic Period.”

Horned dinos thrived in Late Jurassic period

Describing the new species helps scientists reassess the speed and pattern of ceratopsian development. Hualianceratops lived around 160 million years ago (early in the Late Jurassic Period), and the evolutionary associations the scientists found for the new species and other ceratopsians reveal that multiple lineages of ceratopsians were found concurrently—including the varied group Neoceratopsia that took over the Late Cretaceous.

"Identifying Hualianceratops allows us to expand the beaked family of dinosaurs (Ceratopsia), which includes popular species like Triceratops and Psittacosaurus,” said study author Fenglu Han, a postdoctoral student at China University of Geosciences. “Now we know the horned dinosaurs thrived in the early Late Jurassic, and they co-existed with Guanlong, which was an early relative of T. rex and maybe threatened them.”

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