A skull excavated in Montana in 1997 led to the discovery of the first horned dinosaur species in North America. The dinosaur species lived about 104-109 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period.
Andrew Farke and his colleagues at the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology describe their findings in the journal PLOS One, published on December 10. The species, Aquilops americanus, is a crucial discovery because the next horned dinosaur species from North America didn’t live for roughly another 20 million years.
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The skull, which is just 84 millimeters long, has a beak-like, hooked structure. The researchers estimate the dinosaur was around the size of a crow. Farke notes that the skull resembles that of Asian horned dinosaurs, suggesting an “intercontinental migratory event between Asia and North America.
The researchers were surprised to find similarities between Aquilops and horned dinosaurs from Asia. The similarities suggest that Aquilops’ ancestors migrated from Asia to North America approximately 113 million years ago, Live Science reported.
“Aquilops lived nearly 20 million years before the next oldest horned dinosaur named from North America,” Dr. Andrew Farke, a researcher at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, Calif. and the paper’s lead author, said in a written statement. “Even so, we were surprised that it was more closely related to Asian animals than those from North America.”
The researchers said more fieldwork will need to take place to better understand precisely and how the migration occurred.
The research will allow scientists to obtain a better understanding of the evolution of horned dinosaur species, which have remained, for the most part a mystery, thanks to a limited number of fossils. The skull will be kept at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.