Newly discovered dinosaur Wendiceratops pinhornenis is seen in a reconstruction illustration. Image: Reuters/Danielle Dufault
Scientists on July 8 announced the discovery of Wendiceratops pinhornensis, a 6m two-ton beast with a prominent, upright horn atop its nose and a series of short, forward-curling hooks adorning a bony, shield-like frill at the back of its head. It lived in a lush, warm coastal plain near the inland sea that bisected North America at the time, cropping plants with its parrot-like beak.
The scientists say Wendiceratops, which lived 79 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, provides insight into the early evolution of horned dinosaurs, a prominent group of four-legged herbivores including the well-known Triceratops that lived near the end of the age of dinosaurs.
“Wendiceratops is a truly eye-catching dinosaur. With its array of gnarly horns curling forward off the back of its frill and its tall nose horn, it is without a doubt one of the most highly ornamented members of the horned dinosaur family, which is well-known for their spiky skulls,” says paleontologist David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
“We suspect that the skull ornamentation may have been a visual cue that allowed these animals to recognise each other over a long distance,” says Cleveland Museum of Natural History paleontologist Michael Ryan.
So who the heck is Wendy?
As for the dinosaur’s name, it was coined as a tribute to Canadian fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda.
She first spotted the dinosaur’s fossils in southern Alberta’s remote badlands in 2010, including parts of the frill sticking out of a mud rock layer at the bottom of a steep hill just north of the Montana border. So far, the fossils of three adults and one juvenile Wendiceratops have been identified.
To celebrate the honour, Sloboda got herself inked: “I got a new tattoo of my dinosaur recently to show it off. It is pretty exciting for me.”
— carlzimmer (@carlzimmer) July 9, 2015
Sloboda has scoured far-flung locales including Argentina, Mongolia, France and Greenland and made her first important fossil finds as a teenager. Now, she can be reminded of Wendiceratops – meaning “Wendy’s horned face” – every time she looks at the tattoo on her forearm.
“It is every fossil hunter’s dream to have a specimen named after you,” says Sloboda, who works as a paleontological technician searching for, excavating and preparing fossils for study.
“Wendy is one of the most talented dinosaur hunters in the world. She has a sixth sense for finding important fossils,” says Evans.
The research appears in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. – Reuters/Will Dunham