This week, scientists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, published a study in which the authors – Caleb Brown and Donald Henderson – announced the discovery of a new dinosaur species called “Regaliceratops peterhewsi” estimated to have lived roughly 68 million years ago.
“Here, a new genus and species of chasmosaurine ceratopsid is described based on a nearly complete and three-dimensionally preserved cranium recovered from the uppermost St. Mary River Formation (Maastrichtian) of southwestern Alberta,” the authors share in the study about the first example of a horned dinosaur to be discovered in that particular region of North America.
“Ceratopsid (horned) dinosaurs are an iconic group of large-bodied, quadrupedal, herbivorous dinosaurs that evolved in the Late Cretaceous (the period that began 145 million and ended 66 million years ago) and were largely restricted to western North America,” the study continues.
Because of its resemblance to the horned comic-book character, Regaliceratops peterhewsi has received the nickname “Hellboy.” The physical appearance, however, was not the only reason for this nickname. It was also the “hellish” discovery process.
The Challenging Discovery
The near-complete skull was first discovered in 2005 by Calgary-based geologist Peter Hews in a steep cliff along the Oldman River of southwestern Alberta, Canada.
The rock in which the fossil was ingrained was so hard that the excavation process took years to be completed. To add to this challenge, the dinosaur skull happened to be located next to a river that was, and still is, a protected fish-breeding ground, requiring the team of scientists to build a dam that would keep excavation debris from falling into the Oldman river.
Once the fossilized skull was unearthed, scientists took it to a laboratory, where they cleaned up the remains, took measurements, and went on to identify the species as a relative of the three-horned triceratops
“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,” Brown said in a statement.
The Unique Features of “Hellboy”
“This is a really interesting new dinosaur. It’s a close relative of triceratops, but it’s horns and skull frill are very different. They look a lot more like other types of horned dinosaurs that lived earlier in time, which went extinct before triceratops thrived,” Steve Brusatte, a vertebrate paleontologist at Edinburgh University, told The Guardian.
Regaliceratops peterhewsi – which was named in reference of the Triceratops-like frill at the back of its skull and Peter Hews, the geologist who first discovered it – is estimated to have been 16.4 ft. long and weighed 1.5 metric tons.
Both Regaliceratops peterhewsi as well as Triceratops are considered part of a dinosaur group called “chasmosaurines,” which is characterized by a small horn over the nose and two larger horns over the eyes.
However, the newly discovered species features a rather long nose horn and much smaller horns over its eyes, which is mostly seen amongst a dinosaur group called “centrosaurines.” Unlike Regaliceratops peterhewsi, “centrosaurines” were already extinct 68 million years ago, the time when “Hellboy” must have roamed the earth.
“This marks the first time that evolutionary convergence in horn-like display structures has been demonstrated between dinosaur clades, similar to those seen in fossil and extant mammals,” the authors of the study provide in a summary of the same.
“What it’s indicating is that there was massive convergence between the horns and frills of those horned dinosaurs that were thriving during the final few million years before the asteroid hit and killed off the dinosaurs,” Brusatte told The Guardian.
“Because this new dinosaur is one of the latest surviving horned dinosaurs, living at a similar time as triceratops, it is also telling us that horned dinosaurs remained quite diverse right until the end. To me, this is a strong hint that these dinosaurs were at or near the top of their game when that asteroid fell out of the sky,” he added.
Brown concludes that this newly discovered, unexpected diversity amongst this, until now, well-understood dinosaur group will lead paleontologists to look for additional examples that will give researchers a better insight. “There’s still a lot of new dinosaurs to find.”
Images by Royal Tyrell Museum Drumheller, Alberta – Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons