The remarkable new species of horned dinosaur was unearthed in southern Utah by Dr Scott Sampson from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and his team. The 2.5 tonne plant-eater inhabited Laramidia; the western landmass formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America for millions of years during the Late Cretaceous Period (84 million to 70 million years ago).
The newly discovered species, Nasutoceratops titusi, possesses several unique features, including an oversized nose relative to other members of the family, and exceptionally long, curving, forward-oriented horns over the eyes. The bony frill, rather than possessing hooks or spikes, is relatively unadorned, with a simple, scalloped margin. Nasutoceratops translates as “big-nose horned face,” and the second part of the name honours Alan Titus, a Palaeontologist who collaborated on the research.
For reasons that have remained obscure, all horned dinosaurs from the late cretaceous period have greatly enlarged nose regions at the front of the face. Nasutoceratops stands out from its relatives, however, in taking this nose expansion to an even greater extreme. Dr Sampson stated, “The jumbo-sized schnoz of Nasutoceratops likely had nothing to do with a heightened sense of smell—since olfactory receptors occur further back in the head, adjacent to the brain—and the function of this bizarre feature remains uncertain.”
Palaeontologists have long speculated about the function of horns and frills on horned dinosaurs. Ideas have ranged from predator defence and controlling body temperature to recognizing members of the same species. Yet the dominant hypothesis today focuses on competing for mates—that is, intimating members of the same sex and attracting members of the opposite sex. Peacock tails and deer antlers are modern examples. In keeping with this view, Mark Loewen, co-author of this study claimed that, “The amazing horns of Nasutoceratops were most likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn’t enough, as weapons for combating rivals.”