Canada's newest dinosaur an 'alien-horned' beast

Scientists have come up with a likeness of Canada's newest dinosaur, a fierce-looking horned creature that roamed southern Alberta almost 80 million years ago.

Re-created from fossils discovered in 1950s

Scientists have come up with a likeness of Canada’s newest dinosaur, Xenoceratops foremostensis, more than 50 years after the first fossilized fragments of one were dug up in southern Alberta.

Its new name comes from the Greek words meaning "alien-horned face."

Pieces of skull and neck bone sat on a shelf in Ottawa’s Museum of Nature after they were unearthed at a dig near Foremost, Alta., in 1958.

They were forgotten until 2003 when paleontologists Michael Ryan and David Evans started their own investigation for their research paper on fossils that were first discovered in that area of Alberta – the far southeast corner.

Six years later, they found additional skull fragments from the same creature that had been placed in an old plaster field jacket.

As detailed in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, the pair took all the fragments to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where they were able to put together a metre-long piece of neck bone.

As a result, a team was able to imagine what the animal looked like. In a word, it was fearsome. The animal weighed 3,000 kilograms, with a beak-like mouth and a frightening appearance that included a massive neck shield topped by two large spikes. They think it was six metres long. The dinosaur roamed Alberta almost 80 million years ago, making it the oldest-known, large-bodied dinosaur from Canada. 

"Xenoceratops foremostensis shows us that even the geologically oldest ceratopsids [big-horned dinosaurs] had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved," said Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

According to Ryan, the horns might have been used to attract female counterparts. He theorizes the males with the bigger horns were more successful reproductively.

 "The early fossil record of ceratopsids remains scant…Xenoceratops provides new information on the early evolution of ceratopsids," said the report’s co-author, David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto.