POLITICS

Dinosaur community welcomes two new species courtesy of Alberta fossils

03/12/2012 06:19 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The dinosaur community can thank Alberta for the latest additions to the family.

Fossils unearthed in the province are behind the naming of two new horned dinosaur species.

The fossils in question are a lower left jaw fragments discovered in 1995 in Dinosaur Provincial Park, and lower right jaw fragments recovered in southern Alberta in 1950.

The Canadian finds were instrumental in identifying two new species from the Leptoceratopsidae horned dinosaur family — Unescopceratops koppelhusae and Gryphoceratops morrisoni. The naming of the small-bodied horned dinosaurs is reported in research published online in the journal Cretaceous Research.

"Small-bodied dinosaurs are typically poorly represented in the fossil record, which is why fragmentary remains like these new leptoceratopsids can make a big contribution to our understanding of dinosaur ecology and evolution," report co-author David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum said in a release Monday.

The dinosaurs were herbivores that lived during the Late Cretaceous, between 75 to 83 million years ago.

"These dinosaurs fill important gaps in the evolutionary history of small-bodied horned dinosaurs that lack the large horns and frills of relatives like Triceratops from North America," said lead author Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

"Although horned dinosaurs originated in Asia, our analysis suggests that leptoceratopsids radiated to North America and diversified here, since the new species, Gryphoceratops, is the earliest record of the group on this continent."

The authors report that Unescoceratops koppelhusae lived approximately 75 million years ago, measured about one to two metres and weighed less than 91 kilograms. It also had a parrot-like beak.

Gryphoceratops morrisoni, they said, lived about 83 million years ago. The researchers believe it was an adult dinosaur less than one-half metre in length. The authors note that would make it the smallest adult horned dinosaur in North America and one of the smallest known adult plant-eating dinosaurs.