A smaller ancestor of the more common triceratops

May 15 2010 - 6:34pm

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Kirkland
Kirkland

Someday, your child's collection of plastic dinosaurs may include a new creature -- Diabloceratops eatoni.

Discovered in Southern Utah, this dinosaur with 24 horns on its head is a smaller ancestor of the well-known triceratops.

"Right now, this is the most primitive and the oldest of the advanced big-horned dinosaurs," says state paleontologist James Kirkland, who found the partial skull of the reptile in 2002 with colleague Don DeBlieux of the Utah Geological Survey.

Diabloceratops eatoni -- named in part for Weber State University professor Jeffrey Eaton -- was about as large as a black rhinoceros, weighed up to 2 tons and lived 80 million years ago. The triceratops was the size of a modern elephant, weighing 8 to 9 tons and roaming the Earth 65 million years ago.

The new Utah specimen, whose skull is now on display at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, was probably a teenager.

"Look how gnarly he looks," Kirkland says.

The dinosaur is significant because of a facial opening between its eyes and nose that has only been seen previously in animals found in Asia, Kirkland says. This find establishes a link between creatures from North America and Asia.

"It's another little index card in our knowledge of how all these things were related to each other," he says.

Diabloceratops' skull also adds to the theory that the oldest horned dinosaurs had more horns, then lost them over time due to various adaptations, Kirkland says.

The fossil has been nicknamed the "Last Chance" skull, for its discovery in Last Chance Canyon at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah, an area Kirkland says is rich in fossils. Four or five new horned dinosaurs, along with new tyrannosaurs and duckbills, have been found there, he says.

It took years to get the skull removed from the backcountry, Kirkland says, and then more than 900 hours in the lab to remove the rock from the fossil.

Besides having his dinosaur discovery announced in a scientific publication in May, Kirkland says, Diabloceratops will be the "cover girl" for an upcoming book, "The Complete Dinosaur," in which Kirkland has a chapter.

READ A RELATED ARTICLE: WSU Professor Jeff Eaton's Ceratopsian namesake

 

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