Monday, October 26, 2015

Medusaceratops: Beast of the Week

 Medusaceratops lokii was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Montana, USA, during the Late Cretaceous period, between 78 and 77 million years ago.  Medusaceratops measured about twenty feet long from beak to tail and was a member of the ceratopsian family of dinosaurs, most well known for including Triceratops, its later, larger, and more well-known cousin.

Medusaceratops life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

The genus name, Medusaceratops, translates to "Medusa Horn Face" in reference to the horns over the eyes and around the frill of this dinosaur, which curved downward, and were almost serpentine in shape.  This reminded paleontologists of the mythical creature called a gorgon, the most famous of which was named Medusa, who had snakes for hair and could turn people to stone if they looked at her.  The species name, lokii, is in reference to the Norse god of trickery, whose name was Loki.  This is because the bones of Medusaceratops were believed to have belonged to another, already known ceratopsian dinosaur, called Albertaceratops,  It can be said that Medusaceratops tricked paleontologists into thinking it was Albertaceratops for a few years before finally being recognized in 2010.  The god, Loki, has also been turned into a supervillain in the MARVEL comics.  This character wears a helmet with long, curved horns on it...like a ceratopsian dinosaur!  (Loki's horns curve upwards while Medusaceratops' curve down, though...but it's cool that a dinosaur is coincidentally named after a comic book villain so whatever.)


Loki, the villainous adopted brother of Thor, from the MARVEL comics.  

So why did Medusaceratops have those horns, anyway?  Unlike the horns of some other ceratopsians, which face up our outwards, this dinosaur's horns point...down.  Unless it was fighting giant Tremors monsters, I doubt they would have been much good as weapons against predators.  Part of me still thinks that the horns, despite this, still could have deterred a predator from biting vital areas on Medusaceratops' body, like the eyes or neck, simply by just being in the way.  However, this doesn't really hold up too much since there were so many different kinds of ceratopsains, each with unique horn arrangements.  If they were purely for defense, they would more likely converge to one, most effective anti-predator shape.  The more likely answer to these horns is that they were display adaptations, meant to intimidate and/or impress members of its own species.  If a would-be predator happened to break at tooth or two on a horn in a failed attempt to hunt Medusaceratops...then it was icing on the ceratopsian cake...which that predator would never get to taste.

Medusaceratops skeletal mount on display at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Medusaceratops is the oldest known chasmosaurine ceratopsian dinosaur on the fossil record so far.  Chasmosaurine ceratopsians typically had longer horns over their eyes, and proportionally long frills.  Chasmosaurus, Triceratops, Mercuriceratops, Coahuilaceratops, and Vagaceratops were all other examples of chasmosaurine ceratopsians that have been covered on Prehistoric Beast of the Week.

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page.

References

Ryan, Michael J.; Russell, Anthony P., and Hartman, Scott. (2010). "A New Chasmosaurine Ceratopsid from the Judith River Formation, Montana", In: Michael J. Ryan, Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier, and David A. Eberth (eds), New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium, Indiana University Press, 656 pp.

2 comments:

  1. It's not actually named after the Marvel character....

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    1. Sorry Dr. Ryan. For some reason I was convinced it was the marvel character first. I tweaked it. My mistake!

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