Huge, plant-eating dinosaur named for Utah paleontologist
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
KANAB, Kane County — The name is Nasutoceratops titusi, or in other words, "big nose horned face."
At least that's the description of the first name. Titusi follows and is the name gained from Dr. Alan Titus, a paleontologist who is the latest Utahn to reach back millions of years to find a slice of fame and discovery.
"It leads us to believe we are still just on the edge of major discoveries," Titus said, as he joined others to describe the finding Wednesday. "If everything is different down here, who knows what's waiting for us."
For the third time in five years, a Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument employee was honored by having a newly discovered dinosaur named for them. Titus, a paleontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, was honored for his years of research collaboration.
The British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B announced Wednesday that the new species of horned dinosaur unearthed at the monument will be named for Titus and the animal's ample horn and nose.
Study leader Scott Sampson said the 76 million-year-old "bull-like" discovery means potentially a whole new group of dinosaurs.
He said the Nasutoceratops is the one and only mostly complete skull of its kind in the world. Two other partial Nasutoceratops were also discovered, and Sampson said they are waiting for more horned dinosaur discoveries. He said the area "arguably remains one of the largest treasure troves for Mesozoic dinosaurs.
Nasutoceratops, belonging to the horned dinosaur family Ceratopsidae, was a plant-eater inhabiting Laramidia, a landmass formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America. As epitomized by the renowned Triceratops, most members of this group have huge skulls bearing a single horn over the nose, one horn over each eye, and an elongate, bony frill at the rear.
The species 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.
Eric Lund discovered the skull sticking out of the hillside of the park, and Titus said Lund knew right away in the field he had something new.
“Nasutoceratops is an example of just how much more there is to learn about the world of dinosaurs," Lund said. "Many more exciting fossils await discovery in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument."
Titus said for him, the discovery of the roughly 76 million-year-old Nasutoceratops is a "poster child" for the uniqueness of dinosaurs that lived in the southern part of North America.
Titus said in the past 13 years they have discovered more than 20 new species of dinosaurs alone in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area.
"Right now this is one of the hottest places to be doing paleontological research in the U.S.," he said.
The rugged region administered by the Bureau of Land Management was the last major area in the lower 48 states to be mapped by cartographers and is the largest monument in the United States.
More new dinosaur species have been discovered there than anywhere else in the world, monument officials have said. Sampson describes the monument as the "last great, largely unexplored dinosaur boneyard in the 48 states.
In 2010, volunteer and seasonal employee Scott Richardson had a dinosaur that was discovered in the monument four years earlier named after him. The same happened in 2009 with park ranger Merle Graffam for a dinosaur discovered on a section of land not far from the monument, which covers 1.9 million acres.
The published study, funded in large part by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Science Foundation, was led by Sampson when he was chief curator at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah.
Sampson is now the vice president of Research and Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Additional authors include Eric Lund of Ohio University, previously a University of Utah graduate student; Mark Loewen, Natural History Museum of Utah and Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah; Andrew Farke, Raymond Alf Museum; and Katherine Clayton, Natural History Museum of Utah.
A cast of the Nasutoceratops skull will be on display for a month at the Natural History Museum of Utah, and another casting will join their Past Worlds exhibit permanently.
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