Image:Dinosaur skull
PloS ONE
A newly found dinosaur featured strangely folded frill of horns on the top edge of its head and the horns that stick out sideways from above the eyes.
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updated 9/22/2010 10:26:35 AM ET 2010-09-22T14:26:35

Two spectacular new species of horned, triceratops-like dinosaurs have been found in southern Utah, report paleontologists. The ornately frilled rhino-sized dinos are more than just eye candy, however. They are deepening a mystery about a long lost island that supported a seemingly impossible number and variety of dinos at the same time.

The giant plant-eating Kosmoceratops richardsoni and Utahceratops gettyi were found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in rocks that were once part of a long island called Laramidia, which was separated from the rest of North America by a wide, shallow, north-south running seaway.

"It's a freaky dinosaur," said Matthew Lamanna, assistant curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, commenting on Kosmoceratops. "If it were made into a kid's toy, it'd be a very popular one."

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Among the things that make Kosmoceratops stand out are the strangely folded frill of horns on the top edge of its head and the horns that stick out sideways from above the eyes — more like a longhorn steer than a dinosaur. The scientists are quite sure that none of these and other unusual features are artifacts of burial or damage after death for one simple reason:

"We actually have more than one skull," said paleontologist Scott Sampson, research curator at the Utah Museum of Natural History and lead author of a paper describing the new dinosaurs in the journal PloS ONE. Sampson is better known to children as "Dr. Scott," the host of the PBS Kids program, "Dinosaur Train."

Over the last few decades discoveries of Laramidian dinosaurs from Alberta to New Mexico have been revealing an unusually large number of both individuals and species living within a short span of time and varying from north to south.

For many years it was primarily the remnants of the northern end of Laramidia, found in Alberta, Canada, which were yielding great numbers of new dinosaur species from the late Cretaceous. Now the discoveries in Utah are beginning to catch up by representing the southern end of Laramidia.

Researchers have been surprised to find that instead of one or two species of dinosaur reaching across a large land mass — as is the case with large mammals today — there appear to have been many kinds of horned dinosaurs sharing the island.

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Just how such large animals managed this is unknown, said Sampson. One possibility is that they had slower metabolisms than comparably-sized mammals, and so needed less energy and less food and space, Sampson explained.

As for what the ornate horns of the new dinos were used for, that's unknown, but the best best is they were all about looks.

"It was initially thought that they must be used as weapons," said Sampson. "It's much more likely it was used for show" to attract mates and/or repel competitors.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

Explainer: The world's seven deadliest dinosaurs

  • Copyright 1985 Mark Hallett, "Awakening of Hunger"

    Yeah, it's cliche to say Tyrannosaurus rex was deadly. But the tyrant king was likely true to the billing. Its bone-crushing jaws could splinter prey like toothpicks, after all. And the beast was big, up to 40 feet long, 20 feet tall, and may have topped the scales at nearly 16,000 pounds.

    The king walked on two legs over a vast territory in western North America at the end of the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago. Scientists wonder whether T. rex was more a lumbering scavenger or a quick and agile predator, but dead or alive, its meals were big, meaty and bloody.

    T. rex wasn't the only deadly dino, however. The globe was filled vicious killers. Click the arrows above to see more.

    — John Roach, msnbc.com contributor

  • Family diner

    Demetrios M. Vital

    Family meals for Majungasaurus crenatissimus were often bloody affairs of the grimmest sort: Kin were the main course. The evidence of its cannibalistic ways comes from telltale tooth marks on Majungasaurus bones that match up perfectly with the size and spacing of teeth in its jaws.

    The 20-foot-long dinosaur stalked the plains of Madagascar about 70 million years ago. At that time, the crime-scene investigators said, pickings were often slim. Their data indicate Majungasaurus fed on dried out "dino jerky" from its plant-eating compatriots as well as members of its own species. Cannibalism was likely just as common among dinosaurs as it is among living animals, but the evidence is rare.

  • Brow beater

    Todd Marshall

    Eocarcharia dinops' brow was swollen into a massive band of bone. The menacing head piece may have been used as a battering ram against rivals and to attract potential mates. Its blade-shape teeth were reserved for disabling live prey and severing their body parts.

    The 110-million-year-old beast and its snout-nosed, gut-and-carcass-scavenging relative Kryptops palaios were discovered in Africa's Sahara Desert. The approximately 7-foot-tall and 25-foot-long duo likely teamed up with a third carnivore and feasted on the long-necked plant-eater Nigersaurus.

  • Vicious rocker

    Parsons

    The toothy Masiakasaurus knopfleri likely speared prey with its forward projecting front teeth and then sliced and tore the captives into chewy chunks with its bladelike rears. This type of tooth arrangement is otherwise unknown in predatory dinosaurs.

    Scientists believe the German Shepherd sized beast feasted on fish, lizards, and other critters on the southern supercontinent Gondwana in the Late Cretaceous period, about 65 to 70 million years ago.

    The first part of this dinosaur's name means "vicious lizard" and the second part is derived from the Dire Straits singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler, whose music inspired the discoverers as they toiled on the African island nation of Madagascar.

  • Biggest carnivore?

    Prof. Rodolfo Coria / Ap

    At about 40 feet long and weighing an estimated 6 tons, Mapusaurus roseae was one of the biggest meat-eating dinosaurs to ever stalk the Earth. Bones of several individuals were discovered in one place, suggesting the giants may have hunted in packs that could have toppled perhaps the largest dinosaur that ever lived — a 100-foot-long plant eater called Argentinosaurus.

    Mapusaurus lived about 100 million years ago and was bigger than well known Tyrannosaurus rex and possibly larger than its older cousin, Gigantosaurus. Its teeth were narrow and blade like, made for slicing its prey. The bones were discovered in the Patagonia region of Argentina.

  • Going green

    MWS

    Falcarius utahensis is the living image of a vicious meat eater trying to go vegetarian. Scientists aren't sure if the bird-like relative of Velociraptor had fully kicked its taste for flesh, but its meat-cutting teeth had shrunk to leaf-cutting size and its gut had expanded sufficiently to ferment plants.

    Falcarius walked on two legs and stood about 4.5 feet tall. Head to tail, it was about 13 feet long and wielded sharp, curved, four-inch long claws — perhaps to grab a bite when it fell off the wagon? The dinosaur lived during the Early Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago, in what is today Utah.

  • Plant ripper

    utah.edu

    No plants were safe from Gryposaurus monumentensis, a big boned, duck-billed dinosaur that could have eaten any vegetation it stumbled across. Its massive skull packed more than 300 teeth for slicing up fibrous greens. Hundreds more replacement teeth rested in its jawbone for the call-up to action.

    The dinosaur lived in the Late Cretaceous, about 75 million years ago on the western side of a giant, shallow ocean that split North America at that time. The plant-munching beast may have reached 30 feet long as an adult and had a 3-foot-long head.

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