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Scientists Name New Dinosaur for its Wing-Like Headgear

Jun 18, 2014 05:09 PM EDT

Based on fossils collected from the state of Montana and Alberta, Canada, scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur for its wing-like headgear.

Now known as Mercuriceratops Gemini, the two-ton dinosaur lived about 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period. Mercuriceratops means "Mercury horned-face," referring to the wing-like protrusions on its head that resemble the wings on the helmet of the Roman god, Mercury. The name "gemini" refers to the almost identical twin specimens found in north central Montana and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dinosaur Provincial Park, in Alberta, Canada.

"Mercuriceratops took a unique evolutionary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull into protruding wings like the decorative fins on classic 1950s cars. It definitively would have stood out from the herd during the Late Cretaceous," lead author Dr. Michael Ryan said in a statement.

Ryan adds that such elaborate ornamentation served to protect the ceratopsians - horned dinosaurs - from predators, help them distinguish between one another and attract mates.

The new dinosaur, described in the journal Naturwissenschaften, surprised researchers with its unique headgear, something no other known species possesses.

"The butterfly-shaped frill, or neck shield, of Mercuriceratops is unlike anything we have seen before," said co-author Dr. David Evans. "Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected."

Mercuriceratops Gemini is described from skull fragments from two individuals collected from the Judith River Formation of Montana and the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta.

By combining both findings, researchers were able to figure out the dinosaur's distinct feature.

"The two fossils - squamosal bones from the side of the frill - have all the features you would expect, just presented in a unique shape."

This dinosaur is the latest in a series of new finds being made by Ryan and Evans as part of their Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which is designed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and study their evolution.

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