This giant dinosaur sported the most colossal horns ever discovered by paleontologists

This giant dinosaur sported the most colossal horns ever discovered by paleontologists
This giant dinosaur sported the most colossal horns ever discovered by paleontologists

Two long, curved horns, the most astonishing ever documented. This is what once adorned the skull of a large dinosaur from the ceratopsian group (Ceratopsia) – including Triceratops And Styracosaurus – , whose fossilized remains were discovered in the mountains of the American state of Montana. Described in an article in the journal Peerj on June 20, 2024, this new specimen was named Lokiceratops rangiformisin reference to the Marvel character Loki, wearing on his head a spectacular golden helmet with immense horns.

Lokiceratops rangiformiscolossus of badlands from Montana

THE Lokiceratops rangiformis is one of the largest horned beasts to have ever roamed our planet. It lived 78 million years ago in the northern part of the Cretaceous island continent of Laramidia, alongside several other dinosaurs of the centrosaurine subfamily (Centrosaurinae). But it was certainly the largest and heaviest of these herbivores with the nasal dome, frontal horns and bony collar at the back of the skull.

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His bones were excavated in 2019 a few kilometers from the Canadian-American border, in the badlands of Montana, these eroded geological formations with dry and rugged landscapes with ravines and ridges. More precisely, in the Judith River formation, a fossil deposit where the remains of four other dinosaurs were recovered. They once inhabited tropical swamps and floodplains, radically transformed by changes in climate, sea level and mountain formation over millennia.

The bones of Lokiceratops rangiformis discovered only come from a single individual, but make it possible to reconstruct most of the dinosaur’s skull. In their study, Joseph Sertich (paleontologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Colorado State University) and Mark Loewen (paleontologist at the Utah Museum of Natural History and professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah), authors of the recently published study, understood that they were facing something exceptional. The colossus indeed presents unique characteristics.

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Impressive adornments, unique among its species

In addition to its immense unique horns, the ceratopsian sported, on the top of its collar – this large bony plate in the shape of a shield – other horns of different lengths on each side, similar to the asymmetrical antlers of caribou and reindeer. . This is why he was nicknamed Lokiceratops (“Loki’s horned face”) and rangiformis, derived from the Latin “rangifer” (“reindeer”) and the suffix “-formis” (“shaped like”, “like”). Notable: the giant lacked the nasal horn typical of other beasts of its species.

“This new dinosaur pushes the boundaries of bizarre ceratopsian adornments, sporting the largest ruff horns ever seen on a ceratopsian”, explains Joseph Sertich in a press release. Paleontologists believe that these animals once used their horns in the same way that birds use their different feathers, for mate selection or species recognition. “These cranial ornaments are one of the keys to understanding the diversity of horned dinosaurs and demonstrate that evolutionary selection for ostentatious displays contributed to the dizzying richness of Cretaceous ecosystems.”

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It was estimated, from the size of its growths, that Lokiceratops rangiformis was approximately 6.7 meters long with a skull measuring over 2 meters from the nose to the tips of the horns. It would have weighed around 5 tonnes, enough to compare it to the largest elephants today – an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is close to the same weight, when an African elephant (Loxodonta) can sometimes reach 7 tonnes. The dinosaur, however, was not as large as its cousin Triceratopsappeared around 12 million years later in history.

An astonishing diversity of horned dinosaurs in Laramidia

The other specimens found in the same formation also offer valuable information to scientists. These are three other centrosaurines unique to this area of ​​Montana, closely related to each other and to Lokiceratops rangiformis, as well as a fourth horned dinosaur. However, in the past, the “paleontologists believed that up to two species of horned dinosaurs could coexist in the same place and at the same time”develops Mark Loewen. “Incredibly, we identified five living together.”

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According to the researchers, the isolation of ceratopsian dinosaurs on Laramidia is probably what allowed them to reach such large sizes… and above all, such diversification into a myriad of species fantastically adorned on their giant heads. This rapid speciation, already observed in isolated animal communities – Galapagos finches, for example – suggests that the great diversity of these dinosaurs could have been greatly underestimated, the researchers believe. Thus, Mark Loewen concludes:

Rapid evolution may have led to the turnover of individual species of these horned dinosaurs every 100 to 200 thousand years. Lokiceratops rangiformis helps us understand that we are only scratching the surface when it comes to the diversity and relationships within the horned dinosaur family tree.

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