In the early days of the Jurassic, carnivorous dinosaurs were getting fancy. Dilophosaurus, Cryolophosaurus, Sinosaurus... all these sharp-toothed representatives of their age bore flashy crests atop their skulls. Now paleontologist Wang Guo-Fu and colleagues have added another to the list - a crested theropod they've named Shuangbaisaurus.

Relatively little of Shuangbaisaurus has come to the surface so far. Wang and coauthors based their description on a partial cranium and lower jaw. Still, the ornamentation of this dinosaur is different from crested forms found elsewhere. The preserved portions of the crests stick out just above the eyes, offering just a hint of what were certainly larger structures in life.

So why were these early theropods so showy? That's still a mystery. Sexual display is a popular answer, but that's difficult to demonstrate in the fossil record. (Especially given that no non-avian dinosaur has been found to show sexual dimorphism, the classic hallmark of sexual selection.) Species recognition is also possible, but is also hard to pick out. And, of course, these explanations are not mutually exclusive and may not touch on the real reasons at all. We'd have to go back to the days of the Early Jurassic and follow Shuangbaisaurus and its relatives around. Still, the crests are a reminder that dinosaurs were living animals that wore striking decorations to communicate with others of their kind. Figuring our what those messages were keeps us going back into the fossil record to see if we might decode them from the bones.

Skull
The skull of Shuangbaisaurus from above, showing the distortion of the snout. Credit: Wang et al 2017

Fossil Facts

Name: Shuangbaisaurus anlongbaoensis

Meaning: Shuangbaisaurus means "Shuangbai lizard", in reference to the county where the fossil was found, and anlongbaoensis is a reference to the local town whose name means "dragon-placing fort."

Age: Jurassic, over 175 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Yunnan, China.

What sort of organism?: A theropod dinosaur.

Size: Unknown

How much of the organism’s is known?: A partial skull with a lower jaw.

Reference:

Wang, G., You, H., Pan, S., Wang, T. 2017. A new created theropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic of Yannan Province, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica. 55 (2): 177-186

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
The Northern Naustoceratopsian
The High Arctic Flyer
The Tomatillo From the End of the World
The Short-Faced Hyena
The Mighty Traveler from Egg Mountain
Keilhau's Ichthyosaur
Mexico's Ancient Horned Face
Mauricio Fernández's Plesiosaur
New Zealand's Giant Dawn Penguin
The Orange Sea Lion
Mongolia's Ginkgo Cousin
The Geni River Frog
Isabel Berry's Dinosaur
The Whale Caiman
The Moab Lizard
Yang Zhongjian's Lizard
The Little Anubis