Today, Michael Ryan and I published a paper describing a new species of horned dinosaur, Wendiceratops pinhornesis. It is one of the oldest known members of Ceratopsidae, the family of large-bodied horned dinosaurs that includes Triceratops, and it provides new information on the early evolution of skull ornamentation in this iconic group of dinosaurs characterized by their horned faces.
The bonebed that produced all of the known Wendiceratops fossils is located in southern Alberta, and in rocks of the lowest part of the Oldman Formation that date to approximately 79 million years. The site was discovered in 2010 by Wendy Sloboda, when she was prospecting for new fossil sites as part of our field team. She found numerous bones, including parts of the distinctive frill, coming out of a mud rock layer at the bottom of a very steep hill. In order to uncover more bones, out team had to remove over 20 meters (60 ft) rock above the bonebed layer, which took an entire field season. We started excavation of the site in the summer of 2011, and have collected over 220 bones to date, representing multiple individuals preserved at different growth stages. The recovered bones represent the majority of the skeleton. This makes Wendiceratops one of the best-known early members of the Ceratopsidae.
Wendiceratops was about 7 m (20 ft) long, and weighed between 1 and 2 tons when alive- about the size of a hippo. Wendiceratops is distinguished from other horned dinosaurs by an impressive array of gnarly horns curling forward off the back of its neck shield. It also had a prominent, upright horn over the nose, and may have had large brow horns as well, although we have not found this part of the skull.
Wendiceratops means “Wendy’s horned Face”, and it is named after Wendy Sloboda, who discovered the first skull bones of the dinosaur in the remote badlands along the Milk River. Wendy is legendary for her ability to find fossils in Alberta , where she has discovered literally hundreds of important specimens; more than 2000 specimens are attributed to her in the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology collections. Given her outstanding contributions to our understanding dinosaurs in Alberta, she deserves a dinosaur.
Collecting the bones, preparing them, and mounting them for exhibit was a huge effort, and this was documented in the documentary series Dino Hunt Canada, which celebrates the incredible dinosaur fossil record of the country (find out more at http://dinohuntcanada.history.ca/). The Wendiceratops project could not have been done without the help of dozens of university students and volunteers helping out with the dig, hundreds of hours of work by skilled technicians in the lab, and our exhibits team- I can’t thank them enough. A full size skeleton of Wendiceratops and an exhibit documenting its discovery is currently on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Learn more about Wendiceratops here.
Read the Open Access scientific paper:
David C. Evans and Michael J. Ryan, “Cranial Anatomy of Wendiceratops pinhornensis gen. et sp. nov., A Centrosaurine Ceratopsid from the Oldman Formation (Campanian), Alberta, Canada, and the Evolution of Ceratopsid Nasal Ornamentation.” PLoS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130007