The first-known horned dinosaur from North America recently was unearthed in Montana, according to a new study.
The dinosaur, described in the latest issue of PLOS ONE, has been named Aquilops americanus, meaning "American eagle face." It lived around 108 million years ago.
That date is significant for the record books.
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"Aquilops lived nearly 20 million years before the next oldest horned dinosaur named from North America," paleontologist Andrew Farke from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology explained in a press release. "Even so, we were surprised that it was more closely related to Asian animals than those from North America."
This dinosaur wasn't exactly kissable. Its cheekbones were like spikes, with a pointy edge protruding at the tip. Its sharp beak could also do some serious damage, as could the spikes on the top of its nose area, the back of its head and those down its neck.
Farke, who led the research on the dinosaur, considers these features to be a "ceratopsian membership card."
The term "ceratopsian" refers to four-legged, plant-eating dinosaurs, including famous triceratops. They lived during the Cretaceous period. Like this new dino, they were known for their beaks, horned heads and the bony frills that protected their necks.
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This latest discovery, when combined with other fossil finds, suggests that the ancestors of these dinosaurs underwent a great intercontinental migratory event between Asia and North America around 113 million years ago. The migration could have continued for the next few million years, but the scientists are continuing to investigate why and exactly when this all happened.
Adding to the evidence for such a migration is the fact that, as Farke indicated, Aquilops shares many features with horned dinosaurs known from Asia.
The dinosaur's natural body protections make more sense when one considers the size of this scrappy animal. The paleontologists believe that it was just 2 feet long and weighed only about 3 pounds. Its head was approximately the size of a lemon.
Although hors d'oeuvre-sized for larger predator dinosaurs, many hungry animals must have thought twice before sticking such a pointy and not very meaty animal into their mouths.