Paleontologists have discovered a new genus of ceratopsian — that's a horned dinosaur — named Mercuriceratops gemini in Montana’s Judith River Formation and Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park.
The 77-million-year-old species has been named Mercuriceratops — Latin for horned-face Mercury — because of frilled, winglike bones on the side of its head that resemble the winged helmet of Mercury, the Roman messenger god. The second part of its name, gemini, or Latin for twin, refers to the fact that the skulls found in Montana and Alberta were identical.
Mercuriceratops gemini, a relative of the well-known triceratops, was a 2-ton, 6-ft.-tall (1.82 m) plant eater from the late Cretaceous Period. The discovery of the two species with identical features proves that these dinosaurs were a distinct genus and not a mutation of a previously discovered species.
The journal Naturwissenschaften described the creatures' uniquely shaped horns as an atypical feature that differentiated it from all other known species. "Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned-dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected,” co-author David Evans said in a statement. The protrusions are thought to have served as protection and could have been a sexually advantageous adaption that attracted mates.
The discovery of the new species is the latest find in the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which aims to study the evolution and movement of dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous Period.
“This discovery of a previously unknown species in relatively well-studied rocks underscores that we still have many more new species of dinosaurs to left to find,” co-author Mark Loewen said.