Monday, 15 April 2013

U is for Unescoceratops

Last week we talked about the theropod Troodon, and this week, we bring you 'U is for Unescoceratops', a small horned-dino relative from the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta. 

Unescoceratops is a leptoceratopsid that lived during the Late Cretaceous (about 76 million years ago) in southern Alberta. Currently, only one specimen is known, a partial left dentary (lower jaw). It was named in 2012 by Canadian palaeontologist Michael Ryan, and several others, including Philip Currie. It was found in Dinosaur Provincial Park, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, hence the name Unescoceratops [1]. The only species currently known is Unescoceratops koppelhusae, in honour of Eva Koppelhus for the invaluable work she has done in vertebrate palaeontology and palynology (study of fossil pollen). The bone was first found in 1995 and shelved as it was assumed to be too impartial to identify. By comparing the partial jaw to other known leptoceratopsids, they were able to determine that it was a new genus, and in fact is an advanced leptoceratopsid. 
Partial left dentary of Unescoceratops (image from Ryan et al. [1])
As you can see, this is a small portion of bone that was used to identify and name this species. This is very common in palaeontology, and palaeontologists are often stuck with small bone fragments to identify. Based on the relative size and comparison to other better-known species, Unescoceratops was between 1-2 m long, and weighed less than 90 kg. Leptoceratopsids are smaller than their better known horned relatives, the ceratopsids, which include large animals like Triceratops, Styracosaurus, and Pachyrhinosaurus

For an excellent artist's rendition of what Unescoceratops may have looked like, check out Julius Csotonyi's website here (Unescoceratops is the top one). 

This is the only dinosaur that starts with 'U' from Alberta, and we'll continue on with the horned dinosaurs next week with 'V'! Only a few more weeks left of the dinosaur alphabet, then we'll return to our regular weekly posts about palaeontology.

1. Ryan, M.J. et al. 2012. New leptoceratopsids from the Upper Cretaceous from Alberta, Canada. Cretaceous Research 35: 69-80.

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