A new dinosaur species has been discovered - in Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature, where the fossil remains had been moldering for three quarters of a century. Pentaceratops aquilonius is a rather small species of Pentaceratops, a cousin of the better known Triceratops.
The difference between the two is that triceratops had three horns on its bony face while Pentaceratops has five.
The discovery of Pentaceratops aquilonius was made by University of Bath palaentologist Dr Nick Longrich. While studying fossils in the museum storage, he noticed that a certain one resembled other Pentaceratops remains found from the American Southwest - but was different.
In a paper published in Science Direct this month, Longrich postulates that the newly-recognized titchy Pentaceratops may have been endemic to the region now known as Alberta. Since there are other dinosaur species that were widespread in North America, he writes, dinosaur distribution was evidently not constrained by geographic barriers, climate, or flora: therefore, dinosaur endemism may have been due to competitive exclusion of immigrants by established populations, that had adapted to local environmental conditions.
Longrich expects his findings to be the tip of the palaeontological iceberg.
"In recent years the pace of dinosaur discoveries has actually increased and the implication there is that we're not even close to the total number of dinosaur species that we could potentially discover," Longrich told Reuters. "My guess is that as we go back into the museum collection and revise things, and go out into the field, we're going to find hundreds of new dinosaur species in coming years."
There could be thousands of unknown species of dinosaurs to be found, he postulates – many lurking in dusty museum storage rooms.
Pentaceratops aquilonius was around the size of a buffalo and like its triceratops cousin, was a herbivore. It lived 75 million years ago close to an area now known as the Canadian province of Alberta. The first to be found was Pentaceratops sternbergii, found in 1921.
Some pentaceratopses were a lot bigger than the presently-found one (or perhaps it just wasn't fully-grown).
One massive skeleton in particular led paleontologists to squabble over whether it was a distinct species or just a particularly beefy individual. In any case, in 2011 it was classified as a different species, named Titanoceratops: just its skull was buffalo-sized, at 2.65 meters, which warranted it an entry for "longest skull" in the Guinness Book of World Records The whole Titanoceratops measured some 9 meters in length, roughly as long as a city bus.
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