Based on fossils collected from the US and Canada, scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur: the Mercuriceratops gemini.
About six metres long and weighing more than 2 tons, it lived about 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period.
Mercuriceratops (Mercuri + ceratops) means “Mercury horned-face”, referring to the wing-like ornamentation on its head that resembles the wings on the helmet of the Roman god, Mercury. The name “gemini” refers to the almost identical twin specimens found in north central Montana and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dinosaur Provincial Park, in Alberta, Canada.
Mercuriceratops had a parrot-like beak and probably had two long brow horns above its eyes. It was a plant-eating dinosaur.
“Mercuriceratops took a unique evolutionary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull into protruding wings like the decorative fins on classic 1950s cars. It definitively would have stood out from the herd during the Late Cretaceous,” said Dr Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History and lead author of the paper published online in the journal Naturwissenschaften.
Ryan added: “Horned dinosaurs in North America used their elaborate skull ornamentation to identify each other and to attract mates – not just for protection from predators. The wing-like protrusions on the sides of its frill may have offered male Mercuriceratops a competitive advantage in attracting mates.”
This dinosaur is just the latest in a series of new finds being made as part of the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which is designed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and study their evolution. This project focuses on the palaeontology of some of oldest dinosaur-bearing rocks in Alberta and the neighbouring rocks of northern Montana that are of the same age.