Newly Discovered Dinosaur Sure Had One 'Supersize Schnoz'

Jul 17, 2013
Originally published on July 17, 2013 6:11 pm

The Proceedings of the Royal Society politely refers to it as a "short-snouted horned dinosaur."

National Geographic is less reserved and gets right to the obvious point: "Paleontologists have discovered a new dinosaur, a Triceratops relative with a supersize schnoz that once roamed present-day Utah."

The Natural History Museum of Utah said Wednesday of the discovery made by a University of Utah graduate student in 2006 that:

"Nasutoceratops titusi possesses several unique features, including an oversized nose relative to other members of the family, and exceptionally long, curving, forward-oriented horns over the eyes. The bony frill, rather than possessing elaborate ornamentations such as hooks or spikes, is relatively unadorned, with a simple, scalloped margin.

"Nasutoceratops translates as 'big-nose horned face,' and the second part of the name honors Alan Titus, Monument Paleontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, for his years of research collaboration."

As for that schnoz, the museum adds that:

"For reasons that have remained obscure, all ceratopsids have greatly enlarged nose regions at the front of the face. Nasutoceratops stands out from its relatives, however, in taking this nose expansion to an even greater extreme. Scott Sampson, the study's lead author, stated, 'The jumbo-sized schnoz of Nasutoceratops likely had nothing to do with a heightened sense of smell — since olfactory receptors occur further back in the head, adjacent to the brain — and the function of this bizarre feature remains uncertain.' "

The scientists estimate that Nasutoceratops weighed about 2 1/2 tons and stretched about 15 feet. According to National Geographic, it "munched on plants in a swampy, Louisiana-like bayou."

All Things Considered is due to have more about Nasutoceratops later today. We'll add the audio of its report to the top of this post when it's ready.

Update at 4:30 p.m. ET. "A Face Only A Mother Could Love."

This dinosaur "looks like a giant bull with a parrot beak. It has a face that only a mother could love," Gregory Erickson, a paleobiologist at Florida State University, tells NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee during her report on All Things Considered.

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Scientists have been studying an unusual new species of dinosaur. It was discovered a few years ago in a desert region of southwest Utah called the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument.

The researchers have now published a report that offers fresh insight into the evolution of dinosaurs in North America, as we hear from NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Mark Loewen is a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah. He was part of the team that discovered the dinosaur fossils.

MARK LOEWEN: When it was first discovered, we were really excited.

CHATTERJEE: He says the new species is very different from other closely-related dinosaurs called Ceratopsids, which includes Triceratops.

LOEWEN: It has absolutely the largest nose region of any ceratopsian dinosaur.

CHATTERJEE: It has a short, stubby horn on its nose and a rather bird-like mouth. Its teeth are adapted to chew plants. And above its eyes are two long, curved horns sticking out of the side. They look more like the horns of Texas long horned cattle than the short, straight horns of other Ceratopsids.

The team introduces this beast to the world in the latest issue of the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. And they've named the species Nasutoceratops titusi.

LOEWEN: The big-nosed horn faced dinosaur.

GREGORY ERICKSON: It looks like a giant bull with a parrot beak. It has a face that only a mother could love.

CHATTERJEE: That's Gregory Erickson, a paleobiologist at Florida State University.

ERICKSON: This is a pretty important find, in my opinion.

CHATTERJEE: He says this new species from Utah is very different from all other dinosaurs in North America. Until recently, scientists had assumed that the same species of dinosaurs lived all over the continent.

ERICKSON: The paradigm was that North American dinosaurs basically roamed from the north to the south. You know, from Alaska, down to Alberta, all the way into Mexico.

CHATTERJEE: But this new southern dinosaur is clearly different from its cousins up north. That suggests that dinosaurs in the north and the south may once have been geographically separated, possibly by rivers or even a sea, and took dramatically different paths in dinosaur evolution.

Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.