In North America, researchers have discovered what is considered be the oldest horned dinosaur the continent has ever seen. The skull and jawbone fragments discovered during a past expedition in Montana reveal what could be a side branch in the ceratopsian family. The fossil reveals the Aquilops Americanus. The plant-eater has chiseled cheeks, a hooked beak and a small body.
Paleontologists are calling the creature “the little dinosaur that could” due to the tiny stature of the being. The horned dinosaur was quite small, no longer than two feet with a weight of about three-and-a-half pounds. Andrew Farke, the co-author of the study said that, “it was about the size of a raven.” The creature was hunted by the deinonychus and found shelter within the bushes.
The age difference between the oldest horned dinosaur in North America prior to the Aquilops, and the Aquilops, is roughly 20 million years. As such, the discovery of the Aquilops is extraordinarily rare, easily making it the oldest horned dinosaur of North America. The tiny creature has been compared to that of a bunny, but the fossil reveals that this example was likely only an adolescent. The adults were expected to only be a little bigger.
In 1997, paleontologist Scott Maden uncovered the fossil in Montana during a National Geographic Society expedition, led by Richard Cifelli, of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. At the time, the fossil was looked at only as one of the herbivorous dinosaurs that existed in the Cretaceous Period, which it was, however it was also an early horned dinosaur. After closer examination, the fossil revealed more about the creatures that lived 108 million years ago.
The skin of the Aquilops was distinct, although it is not known if was more rough, like quills, or more slick, like scales. Since only the skull was discovered, details about the body remain foggy. This discovery is something that reaches very far back into the history of North America. It is believed that the Aquilops likely migrated from Asia, as it has a structure similar to many creatures rooted in Asia.
Although it is a relative to the Triceratops, the two lived during very different times about 50 million years apart. Unlike the Triceratops, the Aquilops was free of horns and frill, but instead featured small horns around its head and a curved beak. Paleontologists now believe that the creature was a part of a side branch from the ceratopsian family. With its discovery, describing the history of early horned dinosaurs in North America is more accurate than ever before.
The discovery of more early horned dinosaurs reveals information previously unknown about North America. The herbivore may have been small, but it still offers a lot of information to paleontologists. The new study of the fossil demonstrates how insightful reexamination can be when it comes to understanding the history of the planet. The fossil of the Aquilops Americanus can be found at its new home in the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
By Garrett Jutte
Photo by Zachi Evenor – Flickr Licence