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September 30, 2010

Dinosaur Discoveries

Dinosaurs are some of the most fascinating creatures to have ever lived. The past month has further reinforced this, with the discover of not one, but four, truly bizarre new species of dinosaur.

Horns galore
Related to Triceratops, the Kosmoceratops is a truly peculiar creature. It lived between 99 and 68 million years ago, on a land area known as Laramidia. Today, this land mass is the Western US, including Utah, where this dinosaur was discovered. Kosmoceratops takes the prize for most elaborate "horned face": it has a horn on its nose, a horn over each eye, and 10-12 additional horns along the frill. As cool as it looks, though, how much use would all these horns be? Dr. Scott Sampson, the lead researcher, suggests that the horns would have been too delicate and awkward for self-defense; instead, they may have been just for show, to attract a mate and intimidate the competition.

Giant Rhino?
Another ceratopsian, Utahceratops, was also found. It's larger than Kosmoceratops, and not nearly as ornate. It does, however, have a massive horn on its nose. According to one of the study's authors, it resembles a "giant rhino with a ridiculously oversized head."

The Hunchback of Cuenca
Imagine a camel. Now imagine a camel's hump on a 20-foot long carnivorous dinosaur, covered in protofeathers, hunting for small dinosaurs, mammals, and crocodiles. That's about what Concavenator corcovatus looks like. This weird dino lived in what's today central Spain. The researchers aren't sure what the hump was for. One idea is that it was used to store fat, like a camel's hump; another is that it was a display feature; a third is that it was used for temperature regulation. It also had quill-like feathers on its arms, perhaps another display feature.

The Stocky Dragon
Last, and least in size, is another European dinosaur, this one closely related to Velociraptor. Unlike Velociraptor, though, this Romanian cousin, Balaur bondoc, has two killer claws on each foot. It has stocky, fused legs and feet, and massive muscle attachment points. This "dragon" was likely built for strength over speed, and may have hunted creatures larger than itself.

These four new species of dinosaurs add greater diversity, and more questions, to the field of vertebrate paleontology. New discoveries of this sort are always exciting, and these are so bizarre, they just beg to be shared with the world.

Sources: BBC News- Fossils of New Species of Horned Dinos Found in Utah
National Geographic- Hunchback Dinosaur Found: Carnivorous 'Camel'
Science Daily- 'Stocky Dragon' dinosaur, relative of Velociraptor, terrorized Late Cretaceous Europe