Two New Ceratopsid Dinosaurs Announced

When I was a boy my favourite dinosaur was triceratops. At six or seven years old I probably didn’t realise it was a vegetarian, which may well have put me off it; I just thought those horns and that neck shield were super awesome. I made a wooden model of one when I was about 11 years old and was very proud of it. Ceratops means horned face and all animals that belong to this group are known as ceratopsids.

I’m not a loud shouty person and I always liked the idea of the triceratops quietly going about its business but being able to stand up to T. rex and the like when necessary. This is actually a realistic scenario as, unlike most situations we may have picked up from popular culture, triceratops and T. rex did live in the same place at the same time; i.e. north America 68-66 million years ago. If you ever see a stegasaurus thrown in with either of them then that would be a work of fiction, though they also lived in north America they lived some 90 million years previously and never met.

It is, then, with great excitement that I can report on the discovery of two new species of ceratopsid, Machairoceratops cronusi and Spiclypeus shipporum. Both were published in the May 18th edition of PLOS ONE and both have some rather unusual features.

Machairoceratops cronusi, pronounced ma-KAIR-oh-se-ra-tops KRON-us-eye, has two curved horns jutting forward from the top of its neck frill, the function of which are currently unknown.

M. cronusi. Illustration by Fabrizio De Rossi

The name is derived from the Greek word ‘machairis’ which is a type of curved sword and the Greek god Cronus who wielded a sickle or scythe.

Spiclypeus shipporum, pronounced spick-LIP-ee-us ship-OR-um, also had an unusual array of head spikes. Two stuck out sideways from its head just above the eyes and along the crest of its neck frill there were multiple horns, some sticking out, some curving inwards. The Spiclypeus part of the name comes from the Latin for spike (spica) and shield (clypeus) whist the shipporum part is in honour of Bill and Linda Shipp whose land the holotype fossil was discovered on.

S. shipporum. Illustration by Mike Skrepnick

Both of the new species are early examples of the ceratopsid group and lived about 81-76 million years ago and so would not not have been found fending off T. rex.

You may remember a year ago I wrote a post about the discovery of Wendiceratops; along with Albertaceratops, Kosmoceratops, Vagaceratops and a host of other new discoveries the ceratopsid family is rapidly expanding. The family is now becoming so diverse that there is an argument for saying that the ceratopsid name is a nomen dubium, a name that means so many different things as to be all but meaningless and of little utility zoologically speaking. Whilst for the experts this may well be the case, I think that for us lay folk the name is engrained.

Whatever they end up being named, the two latest additions to the family are just as exciting as the triceratops of my youth.

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