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New 'Hellboy' Horned Dinosaur Sports Bizarre Features

Jun 05, 2015 12:56 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered a new dinosaur, dubbed "Hellboy," that sports some bizarre features and is shedding light on ancient horned species, new research says.

The new dinosaur, officially named Regaliceratops peterhewsi and from the Late Cretaceous, was first uncovered 10 years ago from fossils sticking out of a cliff along the Oldman River in southeastern Alberta, Canada. Now, years later, researchers have finally determined that these bones belong to a nearly intact skull of a very unusual horned dinosaur - a close relative of the iconic Triceratops that had been unknown until now.

"The specimen comes from a geographic region of Alberta where we have not found horned dinosaurs before, so from the onset we knew it was important," Dr. Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, said in a press release. "However, it was not until the specimen was being slowly prepared from the rocks in the laboratory that the full anatomy was uncovered, and the bizarre suite of characters revealed. Once it was prepared it was obviously a new species, and an unexpected one at that. Many horned-dinosaur researchers who visited the museum did a double take when they first saw it in the laboratory."

What makes Hellboy so distinct from other horned relatives is the size and shape of its facial horns as well as the shield-like frill at the back of the skull. While it closely resembles Triceratops, differences include a taller nose horn, and the fact that the two horns over its eyes are "almost comically small," researchers say.

However, Hellboy's most discerning feature is the frilly, crown-like appearance of its horn, which Brown describes as a halo of large, pentagonal plates radiating outward, as well as a central spike.

While R. peterhewsi is certainly interesting in its own right, scientists are most excited that this discovery opens the doors to better understanding horned dinosaurs and their unique ornamentation. It's long been known that horned dinosaurs fall into one of two groups: the Chasmosaurines and the Centrosaurines.

Chasmosaurines are characterized by a small horn over the nose, larger horns over the eyes, and a long frill, whereas the Centrosaurines have a large horn over the nose, small horns over the eyes, and a short frill.

"This new species is a Chasmosaurine, but it has ornamentation more similar to Centrosaurines," Brown said. "It also comes from a time period following the extinction of the Centrosaurines."

That means Hellboy is the first example of evolutionary convergence in horned dinosaurs, and that these two groups independently evolved similar features.

The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, suggest that there are more unknown horned dinosaurs like R. peterhewsi out there, just waiting to be uncovered.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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