The shield-like frill at the back of the skull of a new species of horned dinosaur looks like a giant crown! Researchers named it Regaliceratops peterhewsi, and it lived 70 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous in Canada, according to new work published in Current Biology this week.
About a decade ago, geologist Peter Hews (the new species’ namesake) stumbled across bones jutting out of a cliff along the Oldman River in the Rocky Mountain foothills of southeastern Alberta. Now, after the bones were helicopter-lifted out of those Upper Cretaceous rocks, Caleb Brown and Donald Henderson from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology examined the bones, revealing the skull of a previously unknown horned dinosaur. “Once it was prepared it was obviously a new species, and an unexpected one at that,” Brown says in a news release. “Many horned-dinosaur researchers who visited the museum did a double take when they first saw it in the laboratory."
Based on the nearly complete cranium (minus the lower jaw), the new dino’s frill included a halo of large, pentagonal plates that radiated outwards, and it also had a central spike. “The combined result looks like a crown," Brown adds. It may have been used for sexual display. Additionally, it had a taller nose horn than Triceratops, but the horns over its eyes were almost comically small, as they described it.
The duo named it Regaliceratops peterhewsi, from the Latin “regalis” meaning “royal,” for the crown-like frill, and the Greek “ceratops” for “horned face.” (Though they typically just call it Hellboy.) They’re currently working on a digital reconstruction of the skull.
Furthermore, the new dino has pretty significant implications for the evolution of horned ornamentation. You might remember some other extraordinary, newly discovered horned dinos: the cute raven-sized “eagle-faced American” with spiky cheeks, for example, and the two-ton “Mercury horned-face” that sported some fly headgear shaped like wings.
Horned dinosaurs fall into two categories: Chasmosaurines had a small horn over the nose, larger horns over the eyes, and a long frill, while the Centrosaurines had a large horn over the nose, small horns over the eyes, and a short frill. "This new species is a Chasmosaurine, but it has ornamentation more similar to Centrosaurines," Brown says. "It also comes from a time period following the extinction of the Centrosaurines." That means Regaliceratops is the first example of evolutionary convergence in horned dinosaurs: The two groups independently evolved similar features.
Images: Julius T. Csotonyi (top), Sue Sabrowski (middle) all courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta