New fossils found in Alberta, Canada are fascinating and explain the evolution of the Triceratops horns.
The fossils, found by fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda in 2010, are dated back to 79 million years ago. This fascinating new dinosaur, predecessor of Triceratops was named after Wendy Sloboda, Wendiceratops pinhornensis.
Back in 2010, Wendy Sloboda stumbled upon the Wendiceratops pinhornensis fossils while out for a walk with her two German shepherds in Alberta, north of Montana.
She picked up what her formed eye as fossil hunter recognized as valuable and sent it to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Michael Ryan, curator and lead of vertebrate paleontology here talks about the discovery:
“She said ‘I found some ceratopsian material’, which she knows I love. Almost as soon as we saw it, we thought we had something new.”
Just the few pieces of what was already shaping up to be a big discovery weren’t enough. So the scientific team took to Alberta to break rocks and dig until the fossils were brought to life. Two years later, results showed up.
Buried in the bone bed there were one young Wendiceratops pinhornensis and two adults. Pinhornensis, representative of the species name, comes from the Alberta’s Pinhorn Provincial Grazing Reserve. Wendiceratops pinhornensis was found here.
Of course, the unearthing of the predecessor of the horned Triceratops was not the end of the fairytale. It went on with analyzing approximately 200 bones to come up with a computer model of what Wendiceratops pinhornensis must have looked like.
As such, the researchers believe that the dinosaur was 20 feet in length and more than a ton in weight. As other in the ceratopsian order, Wendiceratops pinhornensis liked to graze on the plants leaning at its height. The specific beak and leaf-shaped teeth were also present with the Wendiceratops pinhornensis.
What did distinguish this ceratopsian from others was its distinctive frill decorating the head and curling forward. The nose horn, found in front of this specific frill, was pointed upwards. Due to the limited number of fragments that made up the nose horn, the exact length is not yet known.
However, approximate measurements indicate it was quite tall. The Wendiceratops pinhornensis nose horn went on to grow taller and taller in its ceratopsian successors.
So far, it is known that the nose horn evolved once with the Centrosaurinae, the group that includes Wendiceratops pinhornensis now. The second time it evolved it happened with the group that includes Triceratops, Chasmosaurinae.
Thus, Wendyceratops pinhornensis fossils are fascinating. They can help establish the evolution timeline of the ceratopsids and the rate at which they were evolving.
At the same time, it is fascinating to know how many unearthed valuable fossils are waiting in Alberta, indicating the vast array of ceratopsids and others roaming North America during the Cretaceous.
Image Source: cmnh.org