If you love horned dinosaurs, there's never been a better time to be alive. The number of new species discovered and described in the past 10 years has exploded like a frill full of bony spikes. This year alone has seen several new additions, with paleontologist Michael Ryan and colleagues adding another little teaser before 2016 is out.

Back in 1937 the famous fossil hunter Charles Sternberg dug up a partial skull from the Cretaceous rock of southern Alberta. He noted it as "specimen No. 12", which hazarded was a specimen of a small-sized horned dinosaur paleontologists of the time called "Brachyceratops." That skull eventually found its way to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, but it's only in the context of more recent finds that the skull makes sense.

The skull, cataloged as CM 8804, doesn't have a scientific name yet. Some of the most salient parts of the skull from telling one horned dinosaur species from another - namely, the bones of the frill - are missing. But enough was dug up by Sternberg for Ryan and colleagues to tell that CM 8804 was a relative of Nasutoceratops from southern Utah. Both belonged to a subgroup of horned dinosaurs that the researchers have dubbed the Nasutoceratopsini.

This is more about reshuffling names. Between 80 and 75 million years ago, Ryan and coauthors point out, horned dinosaurs were splitting from each other like crazy, with each lineage taking on their own suite of distinctive ornamentation. There were two major lines - the chasmosaurs and centrosaurs - and the centrosaur group was further split into three parts. There were dinosaurs like Coronosaurus (long nose horn, short brow horns, spiky frills), Pachyrhinosaurus (large knobby boss instead of a nose horn, hooks on the frill), and Nasutoceratops (tiny nose horn, long brow horns, modestly-ornamented frills) overlapping with each other in time, if not space. But what caused these dinosaurs to vary so wildly from each other, and how did they coexist? That drama played out over millions of years, and it's one we're only just now starting to see.

The skull of CMN 8804.
The partial skull of CMN  8804. Credit: Ryan et al. 2016

Fossil Facts

Name: There is no official scientific name yet. For now, the fossil is known as CMN 8804.

Age: Cretaceous, 79-76 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Southern Alberta, Canada.

What sort of critter?: A horned dinosaur belonging to a newly-named subgroup called the Nasutoceratopsini.

Size: The skull is estimated to have been a foot and a half long when complete.

How much of the creature’s body is known?: A partial skull.


Ryan, M., Holmes, R., Mallon, J., Loewen, M, Evans, D. 2016. A basal ceratopsid (Centrosaurinae: Nasutoceratopsini) from the Oldman Formation (Campanian) of Alberta, CanadaCanadian Journal of Earth Sciences. doi: 10.1139/cjes-2016-0110

Previous Paleo Profiles:

The Light-Footed Lizard
The Maoming Cat
Knight’s Egyptian Bat
The La Luna Snake
The Rio do Rasto Tooth
Bob Weir's Otter
Egypt's Canine Beast
The Vastan Mine Tapir
Pangu's Wing
The Dawn Megamouth
The Genga Lizard
The Micro Lion
The Mystery Titanosaur
The Echo Hunter
The Lo Hueco Titan
The Three-Branched Cicada
The Monster of Minden
The Pig-Footed Bandicoot
Hayden's Rattlesnake Demon
The Evasive Ostrich Seer
The Paradoxical Mega Shark
The Tiny Beardogs
The Armored Fish King
North America's Pangolin
The Invisible-Tusked Elephant
The Mud Dragon
The Spike-Toothed Salmon
The Dream Coast Crocodile
Buriol's Robber
Ozimek's Flyer