When you think epic horned dinosaur you probably think Triceratops – well, think again! Triceratops had a cousin that lived 79 million years ago, making it one of the oldest horned dinosaurs. It’s known as Wendiceratops pinhornensis, and its unique hooks and horns give paleontologists clues about how horned dinosaurs evolved.
The dinosaur’s fossilized bones were discovered on the Pinhorn Provincial Grazing Reserve in Alberta by Canadian fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda in 2010 – hence the name Wendiceratops pinhornensis!
While the name might be cute, there is nothing dainty about this 1-ton, 20-foot long dinosaur. It features two large horns on its brow, one horn on its nose, and a highly-decorated frill around its neck that literally curls in on itself giving it the appearance of hooks. Paleontologist David Evans, from the Royal Ontario Museum, explains that this dino’s frill makes it unique.
“The frill is sort of ornamented by a pretty spectacular wave of gnarly hooks that project forward,” Evans says.
Scientists recovered over 200 different bones from virtually all parts of the skeleton (from four different individuals) including multiple, well-preserved pieces that contribute to the fancy ornamented frill. But it’s not just the frill that makes this animal special – it’s the large horn over its nose, which is the earliest occurrence of a prominent nose horn in this dinosaur family.
Michael Ryan, a paleontologist with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says “beyond its odd, hook-like frill, Wendiceratops has a unique horn ornamentation above its nose that shows the intermediate evolutionary development between low, rounded forms of the earliest horned dinosaurs.”
Not only does Wendiceratops help scientists understand the early evolution of skull ornamentation – its crazy frill projections and horns make it one of the most striking horned dinosaurs ever found. Wendiceratops pinhornensis is now on display at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.
For more information check out Ryan and Evans’ description of their dinosaur in PLOS ONE.