Scientists Have Discovered Triceratops Had A Big-Headed Relative

It was only about the size of a cocker spaniel, but had an impressive skull.

Say hello to Triceratops' super-weird relative.

During a dig in China's Junggar Basin, scientists found skull fossils in 2002 that they thought may have belonged to a small dinosaur named Yinlong downsi. But now, after reanalyzing the unearthed skulls last year, they have determined that the 160 million-year-old remains belonged to a previously unknown plant-eating dinosaur named Hualianceratops wucaiwanensis, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Plos One.

"It was probably about the size of a spaniel dog, with a relatively large head, and walked on its hind legs," Dr. Catherine Forster, a paleontologist at George Washington University and a co-author of the research, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Based on comparisons with closely related species, it probably had a modest size tail, although this was not preserved with the specimen."

This is the reconstructed skull of the holotype specimen of Hualianceratops wucaiwanensis.
This is the reconstructed skull of the holotype specimen of Hualianceratops wucaiwanensis.
Han et al.

H. wucaiwanensis is one of the oldest known members of a group of dinosaurs known as ceratopsians, which included Triceratops, National Geographic reported. The researchers decided the newly discovered creature must have belonged to the group since it had characteristics typically found among ceratopsians, such as a small neck frill and a triangular skull, Forster said.

Analyzing the H. wucaiwanensis remains and comparing them to other ceratopsians has allowed the researchers to better understand the early evolution of horned dinosaurs.

That's what makes the new discovery exciting, Dr. Caleb Brown, a paleobiologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.

"These small, early ceratopsians are important because they can tell us about the early evolution of this iconic group," Brown said. "Given the pattern of relationships revealed by the new animal and new analysis, the paper also suggests that there are many more, and more varied, species of these small… horned dinosaurs during the initial evolution of this group."

What were dinosaurs really like? Check out the "Talk Nerdy To Me" video below for dinosaur myths that you probably thought were true.

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