Tiny relative of Triceratops found in China
Fossils of a dog-sized dinosaur, an early, distant cousin of the Triceratops, have been found in China, researchers say.
Paleontologists said the two newly discovered fossils will help them better understand the evolution of this family of dinosaurs.
The dinosaur, Liaoceratops yanzigouensis, weighed only about three kilograms and was less than a metre long.
The name refers to the site where the scientists found the fossils, in the village of Yanzigou in Liaoning province. The fossils' discovery is published in Thursday's issue of Nature.
The plant-eating dinosaur had small horns and a ridge at the top of the skull, mere hints of the massive horns and frill that would adorn its descendant, Triceratops.
"This small, primitive dinosaur is actually more interesting to science in many ways than its larger, more famous relatives because it teaches us more about evolution," study co-author Peter Makovicky said in a statement.
Makovicky, assistant curator of dinosaurs at The Field Museum in Chicago, worked with scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, led by Xing Xu.
Makovicky said the fossil helps establish that the ceratopsians separated from another group of dinosaurs, the parrot-beaked dinosaurs or psittacosaurids, about 150 million years ago, in the early Cretaceous Period.
The new dinosaur also shows that larger and more spectacular dinosaurs can evolve from smaller ancestors.
"We see this common pattern in many different groups of dinosaurs," said Makovicky.
Makovicky said the dinosaur's horns and small frill may have been display features for attracting mates or discouraging predators.
The frill may also have served as an attachment point for its large jaw muscles, Makovicky said.