Mercuriceratops: flashy Cadillac of the late Cretaceous

One oddly-shaped dinosaur bone might not turn out to be a new species. It could simply be from a deformed individual of something already known, or a distortion caused by being buried under tons of shifting rock for millions of years. But two of the same oddly-shaped dinosaur bones? That's no coincidence . . . that's a new species!

Mercuriceratops: flashy Cadillac of the late Cretaceous

Mercuriceratops gemini is the name of a newly-discovered Late Cretaceous chasmosaurine dinosaur. It was probably around two tons in life, living 77 million years ago in what is today Alberta and Montana. It's name, Mercuriceratops (Mercury-horned face) comes from the novel wing-like structures on the sides of its skull (sort of like Mercury's winged helmet) . . . a bit of skeletal flair never before seen in ceratopsian frills. These "wingtips" probably served the same function as the giant fins on 50s and 60s Cadillacs: to look totally sweet, and help its owner impress the ladies.

The details leading up to this new discovery are standard enough, the kind of thing you've heard a thousand times before:

  1. In 2007, a Colorado-based fossil-services company found a strangely-shaped skull bone on private land in Montana.
  2. The Colorado company moved the Montana fossil to the Royal Museum in Ontario.
  3. In 2012, a sculptor-turned-fossil-preparator discovered another strangely-shaped skull bone near "Happy Jack's Cabin" in Alberta. (As an aside, Happy Jack Jackson built said cabin more than 100 years ago on his property in Alberta, which he fittingly named the "Old Mexico Ranch")
  4. A curator from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (Ohio) noticed that the Alberta bone was the same as the Colorado company's Montana bone in Ontario.
  5. Researchers from Ohio, Alberta, Ontario (and Utah!) wrote up a description of the new species and published it in Germany's Naturwissenschaften journal.

Dinosaur research: bringing the international community together.

Update: You can watch lead paper author Dr. Michael Ryan compare Mercuriceratops to a sweet car (and the teenager driving it):

Ryan, M. J.; Evans, D. C.; Currie, P. J.; Loewen, M. A. (2014). "A new chasmosaurine from northern Laramidia expands frill disparity in ceratopsid dinosaurs". Naturwissenschaften. doi:10.1007/s00114-014-1183-1

Pictures are publicity photos from the press release, and are presumed fair use. Top illustration by Danielle Dufault.