The reanalysis of a fossil found more than 20 years ago in New Mexico has resulted in the discovery of an entirely new species of horned dinosaur. Named Sierraceratops turneri, the Cretaceous beast is a sign that dinosaurs were more diverse than we thought—and that many new species are still waiting to be found.
During the late 1990s, CNN founder Ted Turner allowed a group of paleontologists to explore his ranch near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The billionaire chose a spot atop the Hall Lake Formation, which features sediments dating back to the Late Cretaceous. The paleontologists managed to find a partial dinosaur skeleton, which they identified as belonging to Torosaurus, a ceratopsid, or horned dinosaur, that lived some 66 million to 68 million years ago.
Recently, Sebastian Dalman, a paleontology student at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, along with his colleagues, decided to take another look at the fossil. The specimen consisted of the premaxilla (beak), brow horn, frills, shoulder girdle, ribs, and vertebrae. Upon closer inspection, the scientists came to realize that the bones had been misidentified—they were dealing with an entirely new species. Now designated Sierraceratops turneri, the new ceratopsid dino was named in honor of Sierra County and the media mogul. A comparative analysis with other known ceratopsids allowed the team to confidently declare the discovery of a distinct species. The team’s findings were published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
The four-legged plant eater had a combination of distinct features, including brow horns that were short and stout and frill bones that were “not quite like anything we’ve seen before,” as Nicholas Longrich, a paleontologist at the University of Bath and a co-author of the new study, explained in an email. S. turneri measured approximately 15 feet in length (4.6 meters), including its 5-foot-long skull (1.5 meters).
S. turneri likely lived in herds, while having to avoid its mortal enemy, the tyrannosaurs. Back then, New Mexico was quite warm, with rivers, swamps, floodplains, and palm trees...MORE