Thursday, September 23, 2010

Utahceratops gettyi and Kosmoceratops richardsoni-New Species Of Multi-Horned Dinosaurs Unearthed In Utah


Announced in PLoS ONE, the online open-access journal produced by the Public Library of Science, two new species of horned dinosaurs -- Utahceratops gettyi and Kosmoceratops richardsoni -- have been found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. 

View a video
 of Dr. Scott Sampson discussing the two new species of dinosaur discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 
Credit: Utah Museum of Natural History

"A giant rhino with a ridiculously supersized head"

Scott Sampson pictured with the fossil of the species Kosmoceratops richardsoni.
 Photo of Scott Sampson with the fossil of the species Kosmoceratops richardsoni.
Credit: Scott Sampson, University of Utah

"Fifteen long, pointed sideways oriented eye horns: one over the nose, one atop each eye, one at the tip of each cheek bone, and ten across the rear margin of the bony frill"

"A horned face: large horn over the nose and short, blunt eye horns that project strongly to the side"

An artist conception of the newly discovered dinosaur species--Utahceratops gettyi (U-tah-SARA-tops get-EE-i) and Kosmoceratops richardsoni (KOZ-mo-SARA-tops RICH-ard-SON-i)--found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, the "lost island continent" of Laramidia.
An artist conception of newly discovered dinosaur species unearthed from the lost continent
Credit: Lukas Panzarin

Such phrases have been used to describe two newly discovered species of dinosaurs with looks only a mother could love. Still, they are drawing the attention and inspiring the imagination of scientists and lay people alike.

Announced today in PLoS ONE, the online open-access journal produced by the Public Library of Science, two new species of horned dinosaurs--Utahceratops gettyi and Kosmoceratops richardsoni--have been found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Close relatives of the famousTriceratops, these giant plant eaters were once inhabitants of the "lost island continent" of Laramidia, a swampy, subtropical setting formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America, isolating the eastern and western portions of the continent for millions of years during the late Cretaceous period.

Skulls of the two new species of dinosaurs.

Photo of skulls of the two new species of dinosaurs.
Credit: Utah Museum of Natural History

"My enthusiasm for these findings is threefold," said Raymond Bernor, program director of the Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). "First, researchers discovered two new, exciting dinosaur species. Second, the research has accomplished a major advance in understanding the biogenographic provinciality of Western North American dinosaur communities that apparently included separate northern and southern populations. And third, this discovery has inspired future discoveries in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has now emerged as one of the most important paleontological reserves in the world."

Dinosaur distribution on the continent.

Dinosaur distribution on the continent.
Credit: Utah Museum of Natural History

But what about these ugly, horned creatures … Although much speculation has ensued about the function of the ceratopsian horns and frills of these prehistoric monsters--from fighting off predators to recognizing other members of the same species or controlling body temperature--the dominant idea today is that these features functioned first and foremost to enhance reproductive success. Scott Sampson, first author on the paper, explains, "Most of these bizarre features would have made lousy weapons to fend off predators. It's far more likely that they were used to intimidate or do battle with rivals of the same sex, as well as to attract individuals of the opposite sex."

Scott Sampson with the skull of Utahceratops gettyi, measuring about seven feet long.

Photo of Scott Sampson with the skull of Utahceratops gettyi.
Credit: Utah Museum of Natural HistoryResearchers dig for fossils in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah, a site that has now emerged as one of the most important paleontological reserves in the world.

Photo of researchers digging for fossils in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.
Credit: Utah Museum of Natural History


More details are available in a press release from the Utah Museum of Natural History.
View a video discussing the two new species of dinosaur.


Contacts and sources:
PLoS ONE
Patti Carpenter, Utah Museum of Natural History
Raymond Bernor, NSF   
Principal Investigators
Scott Sampson, Utah Museum of Natural History and University of Utah   
Co-Investigators
Mark Loewen, Utah Museum of Natural History  
Andrew Farke, Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology   
Related Websites
Utah Museum of Natural History: Press Release

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