A new Ceratopsian dinosaur has been unearthed, which means that Triceratops now has a brand new member in the family. The discovery has been presented in the PloS ONE journal, published on Wednesday, December 9.
It was made possible through the work of a team of experts, led by Xu Xing, paleontologist and professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and James Clark, Ronald Weintraub professor of biology at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, pertaining to George Washington University.
The recently identified species has been named Hualianceratops wucaiwanensis, which suggests that it’s part of the Ceratopsian family, and also refers to the fact that it has an “ornamental face”.
The prehistoric reptile was awarded with this title because of the structure of its skull, which includes numerous indentations and protuberances, giving it the appearance of an intricate sculpture.
Ceratopsian dinosaurs were horned, beaked herbivores that roamed the Earth during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Period, and were driven to extinction around 66 million years ago.
This recently identified addition to the family inhabited our planet approximately 160 million years ago, at the same time as Guanglong, a ferocious carnivore considered to be one of the ancestors of Tyrannosaurus rex.
In contrast, Triceratops, the most prominent and most easily recognizable Ceratopsian, came into the spotlight much later, around 67 million years ago.
In fact, Hualinaceratops is considered to be one of the first species of this lineage, but even at this early time in history, back in the Late Jurassic Period, there were still several types of Ceratopsians populating the earth.
For instance, back in 2002, the same researchers identified another such dinosaur, which they named Yinlong downsi. Fossils pertaining to that species, including a limb and parts of the skull, were unearthed at the same location as this recently identified one, in Xinjiang Province, China.
In fact, archeologists initially believed that they were dealing with Yinlong dowsni once again, but after a more thorough inspection they realized this was an entirely different member of the Ceratopsian family, because it had a thicker jaw bone, and a differently shaped cheek bone.
Despite being included in the group of horned dinosaurs, Hualianceratops was actually devoid of any horns, unlike its successors, which all had this prominent feature.
Also, the dinosaur was actually very tiny, being around the size of a spaniel, whereas Triceratops could measure up to 30 feet in length. Another dissimilarity between the two is that Hualianceratops could move on its two posterior limbs, whereas its younger cousin was quadrupedal, covering distances on all fours.
According to experts such as Steve Brusatte, evolutionary biologist and paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, this new discovery is instrumental in probing the history of one of the most instantly recognizable families of dinosaurs, which included the famed Triceratops.
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