New horned dinosaur species discovered ‘largest and most ornate’ of its kind ever found

New horned dinosaur species discovered ‘largest and most ornate’ of its kind ever found

(NEW YORK) — A new, giant-horned species of dinosaur was discovered that researchers said is the “largest and most ornate” of its kind ever found, according to a study published Thursday in the journal PeerJ.

Fossils of the dinosaur, which has been named Lokiceratops rangiformis — including a skull and a partial skeleton — were unearthed on private land in Kennedy Coulee, in the badlands of northern Montana near the U.S.-Canada border.

Lokiceratops belongs to a group of horned dinosaurs known as ceratopsids, which evolved during the Late Cretaceous period, about 92 million years ago and survived until the end of the dinosaurs.

Researchers said Lokiceratops was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in the swamps and flood plains of present-day Montana about 78 million years ago and is a cousin of the infamous Triceratops.

Lokiceratops is estimated to have measured 22 feet long and have weighed about 11,000 pounds. This makes it the largest herbivore in its ecosystem at the time it was alive.

The horns are the largest and most ornate ever found in the family of dinosaurs it belongs to, according to the researchers. The dinosaur does not have a nose horn but rather two large and asymmetrical horns on each side of the middle of the back of the frill as well as a spike in the middle of the frill and more than 20 horns along the frill.

The distinctive horns inspired Lokiceratops’ name. The first half pays homage to the Norse God Loki and means “Loki’s horned face” while rangiformis means “looks like a caribou” in reference to how the horns of the dinosaur resemble those of a caribou.

“This is one of the most exciting dinosaurs I’ve had the privilege of working on,” Dr. Joseph Sertich, a paleontologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and co-lead author, told ABC News. “So it has one of the neatest arrays of horns, and spikes along the edge of its frill, including the largest share of horns ever seen along the edge of a frill, and it’s also the largest member of its group of horned dinosaurs — one of the largest ever found in North America.”

The fossils were discovered in 2019 and were cleaned, restored and mounted in Pleasant Grove, Utah, Dr. Mark Loewen, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and co-lead author, told ABC News. He said the team had individual bones of the skull in pieces rather than having an entire intact skull.

“We laid them all out on a table and started to fit them back together,” he said. “Turns out, they did fit together with a click, so they were just broken in the field before they were buried. What’s interesting is, as we pieced together the skull, it became very clear that this was a new dinosaur. We were seeing a dinosaur that no one in the world knew about for 78 million years.”

He said researchers compared the bones to those of dinosaurs at museums across the world to confirm it was a new species.

Lokiceratops is the fifth dinosaur identified from the family of ceratopsids from this region of North America, which shows several of them were living alongside each other. Researchers said this also indicates a higher level of dinosaur diversity than previously understood.

“When I started as a paleontologist, we expected to find only two ceratopsians at any given time in any place in western North America,” Loewen said. “What’s interesting is finding this animal next to four other different closely related species, and a fifth distantly related species, is like going to Africa, to the Serengeti, and finding five different species of elephants. This is completely unheard of.”

Loewen said he, his students and his colleagues hope to find more specimens in more areas to understand the relationships of Lokiceratops and its closely related species and how they lived.

The skull bones will be permanently displayed at the Museum of Evolution in Maribo, Denmark, while a reconstruction of the skull — with a full-sized sculpture — will be displayed at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City for the next six months.

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