New dinosaur find part of previously unknown level of dino diversity in the Southwest
There’s a new dinosaur in the Mountain West – or rather, a newly identified 74-million-year-old dinosaur.
It’s called Bisticeratops froeseorum, and it was an approximately 18-foot-long herbivore that looked a bit like its more famous relative triceratops (though that Hollywood star wouldn’t come along for millions of more years and farther north).
While its name is a mouthful, it's partially based on where the dino was found – the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in New Mexico – and after the Froese family in the German electronic band Tangerine Dream – a favorite of lead researcher Sebastian Dalman.
“Paleontologists are unusual people. So you could probably say we have unusual musical taste,” said Dr. Spencer Lucas, who co-published an article about the new find and curates for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.
A large portion of the animal’s skull was found near the Four Corners region of New Mexico in the 1970s, and was recently identified as both a new species and genus. That part of the country is a paleontology hotspot, where everything from new horned species to new predators have been found in recent years.
“I think a lot of paleontologists realize that we knew a lot less about the southern dinosaurs, if you will, than what we knew about the northern. So I do think there's been this shift in attention to try to beef up the fossil record of dinosaurs that lived in what's now the Southwest,” Lucas said.
Lucas added that Bisticeratops is part of a growing, diverse group of horned animals being identified that are unique to specific areas.
“We've got a lot of them already, but there's probably maybe, who knows, two, three, five, 15 times the number of horned dinosaur species that we know today,” he said.
Steven Jasinski, a professor at Harrisburg University, also worked on this discovery, and he put it this way:
“If we walked back into the late Cretaceous when these animals were around – about 74 million years ago – if you took a drive, you would end up probably passing several different types of horned dinosaurs on that drive, because there there's a lot of differences in the species and they're living close to each other,” he said.
Both Jasinski and Lucas said knowing about these diverse dinosaur species and how they lived – or died – in the ensuing mass-extinction is an important lesson to modern-day humans.
Animals were still evolving and diversifying in the lead-up to that extinction – and still relatively few survived.
The United Nations warns of current-day extinctions that are accelerating as humans develop more areas and climate change alters environments around the globe. Jasinski warns that if we can’t change the trajectory, we could lose out on the benefits that our modern-day diversity brings.
“There's a lot of things that we get from biodiversity that we haven't realized yet. There's new medicines and new techniques that are determined from the biological world all the time,” he said.
As for this Bisticeratops, it may have met its own grisly end. Paleontologists discovered bite marks on the skull from a large predator – but that could have just been from scavenging after it was already dead some 74 million years ago.
For dinosaur fans who'd like to see the newly identified species in person, Bisticeratops’ skull is currently on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.