Why is this new, curly-horned dinosaur named Wendy?

Scientists uncover new remains of an ancient dinosaur, and decide to celebrate in a unique way.

Danielle Dufault/Handout via Reuters
The Wendiceratops pinhornenis dinosaur is seen in a life reconstruction illustration by Danielle Dufault.

After unearthing a dinosaur that stalked the earth over 79 million years ago, Canadian fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda appropriately named the beast after herself, dubbing the two-ton behemoth Wendiceratops pinhornensis, and getting a tattoo of the ancient animal to commemorate the find.

"Wendiceratops is a truly eye-catching dinosaur," paleontologist David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto told Reuters. "With its array of gnarly horns curling forward off the back of its frill and its tall nose horn, it is without a doubt one of the most highly ornamented members of the horned dinosaur family, which is well-known for their spiky skulls." 

The fossil was discovered in the remote wilderness of southern Alberta, in a bonebed south of the Milk River. This remote region borders Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is rich in dinosaur fossils. Ms. Sloboda discovered the bonebed in 2010, and the bones were collected between 2011 and 2014.

So far the fossils of three adults and one juvenile Wendiceratops have been found and identified, with the adults measuring over 20 feet in length. Based on the age of the bones, it appears that Wendy lived during the Cretaceous Period, the same period that the Triceratops horridus lived in. While weighing more than a 2014 Porsche 911 is no joking matter, Wendy’s size is a half to a third of that of her three-horned cousin, which weighed in at four to six tons.

At the time when Wendy roamed Canada, an inland sea cut across North America, creating a rich coastal plain with plenty of plants for the dinosaur to cut off with its parrot-like mouth.

But why the frills? "We suspect that the skull ornamentation may have been a visual cue that allowed these animals to recognize each other over a long distance," said Cleveland Museum of Natural History paleontologist Michael Ryan.

The Triceratops also sported a frilled collar behind its head. Scientists are unsure as to what purpose the six-foot frill served, but speculate that the bone collar may have protected the neck of the dinosaur, may have played a role in attracting mates similar to a peacock’s plumage, or may have helped regulate the dinosaur’s internal body temperature.

The discovery of Wendy, along with the research and findings, was published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

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