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The newly-discovered dinosaur was a member of the Ceratopsidae family – a class of lumbering, horned beasts known for their massive frills. Palaeontologists named the creature Menefeeceratops sealeyi, believing its discovery will help shed new light on the evolution of the ceratopsid dino family tree. Menefeeceratops roamed 82 million years ago through what is now New Mexico and predates the popular Triceratops by some 20 million years.
Although the two were related, the Menefeeceratops was much older and much smaller.
An adult Triceratops could grow to an impressive 30ft in length, whereas the Menefeeceratops grew to a more meagre 13 to 15ft.
What makes this dino stand out, however, is its frills – the large bony spines and structures that stuck out at the back of their head.
In this case, the frills are fairly unassuming without any ornamental horns or features.
Instead, they boast a distinct pattern of bumps and depressed parts.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, among others, presented their discovery in the journal Paläontologische Zeitschrift (PalZ).
According to Peter Dodson of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Penn Arts and Sciences, who collaborated on the discovery, recent discoveries made across the United States and Canada are revealing more and more about this fascinating family of dinosaurs.
He said: “There has been a striking increase in our knowledge of ceratopsid diversity during the past two decades.
“Much of that has resulted from discoveries farther north, from Utah to Alberta.
“It is particularly exciting that this find so far south is significantly older than any previous ceratopsid discovery.
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“It underscores the importance of the Menefee dinosaur fauna for the understanding of the evolution of Late Cretaceous dinosaur faunas throughout western North America.”
The ceratopsid family vanished from the face of the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago).
This is the period when a 10km-wide asteroid is believed to have struck near the modern-day Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, causing a global extinction event.
The Menefeeceratops’s remains were originally found in 1996 when palaeontologists unearth a number of bones from a single dino.
The bones were collected, analysed and described in research carried out at the New Mexico Museum within a year of the discovery.
More recent research, however, has determined the fossil belonged to a brand new species of dino.
Even without access to a full skeleton – the researchers only had parts of the skull, ribs and limbs – the researchers knew they had struck gold.
The beast was promptly named after the rock formation where it was discovered, the Menefee Formation.
The second part of its name, sealeyi, was picked in honour of Paul Sealey who originally unearthed the fossilised bones.
The researchers compared the ceratopsids to the modern-day rhino – large herbivores that likely lived in herds.
Steven Jasinski, a recent PhD graduate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, said: “Ceratopsids are better known from various localities in western North America during the Late Cretaceous near the end of the time of dinosaurs.
“But we have less information about the group, and their fossils are rarer, when you go back before about 79 million years ago.”
The dino expert added: “Menefeeceratops was part of a thriving Cretaceous ecosystem in the southwestern United States with dinosaurs that predated a lot of the more well-known members closer to end of the Cretaceous.”
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