Say Hello to a Horned Dinosaur With 'Wings' on Its Head

Thanks to the winglike ornamentation on the sides of its skull, Mercuriceratops gemini (center) made more of an impression than Centrosaurus (left) and Chasmosaurus (right), other horned dinosaurs from the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada. Danielle Dufault / via CMNH

The latest name in dinosaurs is Mercuriceratops gemini — a bizarre horned dinosaur that had a frill so wide it looked the wings on the Greek god Mercury's helmet.

At least that's what the scientists who named the beast thought. That's how they came up with the genus name, which is derived from the Greek for "Mercury horned-face." The 77 million-year-old plant-eater is described and classified in a paper published online by the journal Naturwissenschaften.

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Image: Skull fragments
These two skull fragments from the right side of the frill on Mercuriceratops gemini's skull were found in Montana and Alberta. Naturwissenschaften via CMNH

The "gemini" refers to the fact that almost identical twin specimens of the species' skull were found in north central Montana's Judith River Formation and Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Paleontologists think Mercuriceratops was about 20 feet (6 meters) long and weighed more than 2 tons. And they suspect that the over-the-top skull ornamentation was a type of protective armor, as well as a way for the dinosaurs to identify each other and attract mates.

"Mercuriceratops took a unique evolutionary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull into protruding wings like the decorative fins on classic 1950s cars," lead author Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said in a news release. "It definitively would have stood out from the herd during the Late Cretaceous."

In addition to Ryan, authors of "A New Chasmosaurine From Northern Laramidia Expands Frill Disparity in Ceratopsid Dinosaurs" include David Evans, Philip Currie and Mark Loewen.