Early relative of <i>Triceratops</i> unearthed

Danielle Dufault

Early relative of Triceratops unearthed

The ceratopsians, horned and frilled dinosaurs that include the famous Triceratops, were one of the most successful and widespread dino groups, especially between about 90 million and 66 million years ago. But little is known about the evolution of their horns, because there are only a few early specimens. Now, a team working in Canada’s Alberta province, near the border with Montana, reports finding a 79-million-year-old ceratopsian they call Wendiceratops pinhornensis (“Wendi” after the Alberta fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda, who discovered the site where the fossils were found, and “pinhornensis” after the name of the site locality, the Pinhorn Provincial Grazing Reserve in Alberta). As the researchers report online today in PLOS ONE, the 6-meter-long beast (artist’s conception above) had the typical ceratopsian features of a frilly crown behind its head and probably had horns over its eyes. But the scientists say that the most important trait is a tall horn on its nose, the earliest sighting of this feature that characterized later ceratopsians. Because Wendiceratops is more closely related to a different group of ceratopsians than Triceratops—one that includes the recently discovered “Hellboy” dinosaur—the discovery suggests that the tall and high version of the nose horn evolved twice in the ceratopsian family. This also means that the precursor of the tall horn, a more modest stubby version, probably evolved in an early ancestor that gave rise to both Wendiceratops and Triceratops.