Scientists have revealed a new species of horned dinosaur with a bizarre set of wings on its head. Mercuriceratops gemini was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) long and weighed more than 2 tons. It lived about 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period. Research describing the new species is published online in the journal Naturwissenschaften, and is based on fossils collected from Montana in the United States and Alberta, Canada.
Mercuriceratops (Mercuri + ceratops) means ‘Mercury horned-face,’ referring to the wing like ornamentation on its head that resembles 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 had a parrot-like beak and probably had two long brow horns above its eyes. It was a plant-eating dinosaur.
“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,” lead author Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said in a news release. “It definitively would have stood out from the herd during the Late Cretaceous.”
“These ceratopsians, Greek for ‘horned faces’ were a diverse group,” Ryan said. “Understanding their diversity can help researchers better track their evolution and species differentiation.”
The researchers think that the wings like protrusions were ornamentation to attract mates and it’s possible that female preferences may have been driving natural selection in male headgear.
“Horned dinosaurs in North America used their elaborate skull ornamentation to identify each other, to attract mates and not just for protection from predators,” said Dr Michael Ryan.
“The wing like protrusions on the sides of its frill may have offered male Mercuriceratops a competitive advantage in attracting mates.”Dr David Evans, a paleontologist with the Royal Ontario Museum and a co-author on the paper, added. “Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected. The butterfly-shaped frill or neck shield of Mercuriceratops is unlike anything we have seen before.”
“This discovery of a previously unknown species in a relatively well-studied field underscores that we still have many more new species of dinosaurs left to find,” said co-author Dr. Mark Loewen, research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah.