Wendiceratops: 79 Million Year Old Triceratops Ancestor Found

A newly identified dinosaur species, named Wendiceratops pinhornensis, could help paleontologists understand the secrets of how horned dinosaurs evolved.

The new dinosaur was about 20 feet long, weighed over a ton, and roamed the earth about 79 million years ago. That makes it one of the oldest known members of the Ceratopsidae family, large-bodied horned dinosaurs one of which was the well known Triceratops.

Study co-author Dr. David Evans, of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, said:

“Wendiceratops helps us understand the early evolution of skull ornamentation in an iconic group of dinosaurscharacterized by their horned faces. The wide frill of Wendiceratops is ringed by numerous curled horns, the nose had a large, upright horn, and it’s likely there were horns over the eyes too. The number of gnarly frill projections and horns makes it one of the most striking horned dinosaurs ever found.”

Wendiceratops had a beautifully decorated skull, notable for an early member of the horned dinosaur family. It’s most unique feature is a series of forward-curling hook-like horns along the margin of the wide, shield-like frill that projects from the back of its skull.

Life reconstruction of Wendiceratops pinhornensis. Credit: Danielle Dufault

Life reconstruction of Wendiceratops pinhornensis. Credit: Danielle Dufault

The new find, a herbivore, fed on low-lying plants with a parrot-like beak, chewing them with dozens of leaf-shaped teeth. It was discovered from over 200 bones, comprising the remains of at least four individuals, three adults and one juvenile, collected from a bonebed in the Oldman Formation of southern Alberta.

Co-author Dr. Michael Ryan, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said:

“Beyond its odd, hook-like frill, Wendiceratops has a unique horn ornamentation above its nose that shows the intermediate evolutionary development between low, rounded forms of the earliest horned dinosaurs and the large, tall horns of Styracosaurus, and its relatives. The locked horns of two Wendiceratops could have been used in combat between males to gain access to territory or females.”

The name Wendiceratops (Wendi + ceratops) means “Wendy’s horned-face”, and is a tribute to the well known Alberta fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda, who discovered the site in 2010.

It is a well-deserved honor for Sloboda, since she has discovered hundreds of important fossils in the last three decades, including several new species.

David C. Evans, Michael J. Ryan
Cranial Anatomy of Wendiceratops pinhornensis gen. et sp. nov., a Centrosaurine Ceratopsid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Oldman Formation (Campanian), Alberta, Canada, and the Evolution of Ceratopsid Nasal Ornamentation
PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130007

Illustration: Reconstruction of Wendiceratops pinhornensis skeleton shows the fossil bones that have been found to date in blue. Credit: Danielle Dufault