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Newly-Discovered Dinosaur Is Cousin Of Triceratops, But Without Horns

Dec 10, 2015 02:52 PM EST

Scientists have discovered a new member of the Ceratopsia dinosaur family. This plant-eating species, Hualianceratops wucaiwanensis, was about the size of a spaniel and was able to walk on its two hind legs, researchers from the George Washington University (GW) report in a new study.

This new species is a cousin of Triceratops, and while fossil evidence suggests the creature was an early "horned dinosaur," it did not actually boast horns. That's no surprise since other early horned dinosaurs – the small bipedal Yinlong downsi, for example – did not have horns. Yinlong was actually found by the same team of researchers in the same fossil beds of the Xinjiang Province, China, in 2002.

"Finding these two species in the same fossil beds reveals there was more diversity there than we previously recognized," Catherine Forster, co-author and professor of biology in the Geological Sciences program at GW, explained in the university's release. "It suggests that the ceratopsian dinosaurs already had diversified into at least four lineages by the beginning of the Jurassic Period."

Researchers were able to reconstruct what Hualianceratops would have looked like using well-preserved partial skull and foot fossils, and compared these to other ceratopsians. This revealed it was slightly shorter and chunkier than Yinlong. Furthermore, researchers found Hualianceratops grazed on the grasses of ancient China roughly 160 million years ago, during the early part of the Late Jurassic Period.

"Identifying Hualianceratops allows us to expand the beaked family of dinosaurs (Ceratopsia), which includes popular species like Triceratops andPsittacosaurus," Fenglu Han, lead author and a postdoctoral student in the School of Earth Sciences at China University of Geosciences, added. "Now we know the horned dinosaurs thrived in the early Late Jurassic, and they co-existed with Guanlong, which was an early relative of T. rex and maybe threatened them."

Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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