Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Paleontologists have unearthed a giant new horned dinosaur species in Montana. Named Lokiceratops rangiformis, this behemoth belongs to the ceratopsian family, which includes Triceratops and Styracosaurus.

Lokiceratops stands out for its spectacular horns, unlike any ever seen before. These horns curve dramatically and resemble the helmet of the Norse trickster god Loki, inspiring the dinosaur’s name.

Living alongside frilled cousins 78 million years ago

Lokiceratops roamed Laramidia, a Cretaceous island continent, alongside various Centrosaurine dinosaurs. While related, Lokiceratops dwarfed them all in size and weight.

Incredibly, most of the dinosaur’s skull was reconstructed from a single individual’s fossilized remains. This revealed unique features like the lack of a typical nose horn and the presence of large, asymmetrical horns on its frill, resembling caribou antlers.

“This dinosaur takes ceratopsian headgear to a whole new level,” said paleontologist Joseph Sertich, highlighting the record-breaking size of Lokiceratops’ frill horns. Scientists believe these horns might have served a similar purpose to colorful bird feathers – attracting mates or signaling species identity.

A surprising discovery in a treasure trove of dinosaur bones

The fossilized bones were found in Montana’s Judith River Formation, a location rich in dinosaur remains. While four other dinosaur species had been previously identified here, Sertich and his colleague Mark Loewen realized they had stumbled upon something extraordinary while piecing together the skull fragments unearthed in 2019.

This whopper was truly massive!

Lokiceratops is estimated to have reached a length of 22 feet (6.7 meters), with a skull exceeding 6.5 feet (2 meters) from nose to horn tips. Its weight is estimated at around 11,000 pounds (5 metric tons), comparable to the largest present-day elephants.

While not quite as large as the later Triceratops, Lokiceratops would have been a formidable sight with its lowered head charging.

The scale bar is 2 meters (6.6 feet). (Dinosaur image: Loewen & Sertich et al., PeerJ, 2024; humans added for scale: NASA)

A community of horned dinosaurs challenges past assumptions

Another fascinating aspect of Lokiceratops is the company it kept. Three closely related Centrosaurine species and another horned dinosaur shared the same formation. Notably, these Centrosaurines haven’t been found anywhere else.

“We previously thought a maximum of two horned dinosaur species could coexist,” explained Loewen. “Finding five living together is incredible!”

The isolation of Laramidia likely fueled the dinosaurs’ large size and diversification, including the unique horn arrangements on their heads. This rapid speciation is similar to what’s observed in isolated island communities, like the Galapagos finches.

This discovery suggests a vast underestimation of dinosaur diversity, according to the researchers.

“Rapid evolution might have led to these horned dinosaurs turning over every 100,000 to 200,000 years,” said Loewen. “Lokiceratops highlights how much we still have to learn about the diversity and relationships within the horned dinosaur family tree.”

Published June 20 2024 in Peerj; Lokiceratops rangiformis gen. et sp. nov. (Ceratopsidae: Centrosaurinae) from the Campanian Judith River Formation of Montana reveals rapid regional radiations and extreme endemism within centrosaurine dinosaurs

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“one of the stars of modern paleontology” (National Geographic)