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Meet Xenoceratops: Canada's Newest Horned Dinosaur

Julius Csotonyi © Julius Csotonyi 2012


An artist's rendering of Xenoceratops foremostensis in its habitat.

Dan Smythe © Canadian Museum of Nature


Skull fragments of Xenoceratops foremostensis in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Collection number: CMN 53282.

Dan Smythe © Canadian Museum of Nature


Plaster field jackets containing dinosaur fossils in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Mark Schultz © Mark Schultz 2012


Ottawa, November 8, 2012—Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur (ceratopsian) from Alberta, Canada. Xenoceratops foremostensis (Zee-NO-Sare-ah-tops) was identified from fossils originally collected in 1958. Its bones reside in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Approximately 20 feet long (6.1 m) and weighing more than 2 tons, the newly identified plant-eating dinosaur represents the oldest known large-bodied horned dinosaur from Canada. Research describing the new species is published in the October 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

"Starting 80 million years ago, the large-bodied horned dinosaurs in North America underwent an evolutionary explosion," said lead author Dr. Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and a research associate with the Canadian Museum of Nature. "Xenoceratops shows us that even the geologically oldest ceratopsids had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved."

Xenoceratops (Xeno + ceratops) means "alien horned-face," referring to the strange pattern of horns on its head and the scarcity of horned dinosaur fossils from this part of the fossil record. It also honours the Village of Foremost, located close to where the dinosaur was discovered. Xenoceratops had a parrot-like beak with two long brow horns above its eyes. A large frill protruded from the back of its skull featuring two huge spikes.

"Xenoceratops provides new information on the early evolution of ceratopsids, the group of large-bodied horned dinosaurs that includes Triceratops," said co-author Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto. "The early fossil record of ceratopsids remains scant, and this discovery highlights just how much more there is to learn about the origin of this diverse group."

The new dinosaur is described from skull fragments from at least three individuals from the Foremost Formation originally collected by Dr. Wann Langston Jr. in the 1950s, and the fragments are housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature's research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec. Ryan and Evans stumbled upon the undescribed material more than a decade ago and recognized the bones as a new type of horned dinosaur. Evans later discovered a 50-year-old plaster field jacket at the Canadian Museum of Nature containing more skull bones from the same fossil locality and had them prepared in his lab at the Royal Ontario Museum.

This dinosaur is just the latest in a series of new finds being made by Ryan and Evans as part of their Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, which is designed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of Late Cretaceous Period dinosaurs and study their evolution. This project focuses on the palaeontology of some of the oldest dinosaur-bearing rocks in Alberta, which is less intensely studied than that of the famous badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park and Drumheller.

"This discovery of a previously unknown species also drives home the importance of having access to scientific collections," said co-author Kieran Shepherd, curator of palaeobiology for the Canadian Museum of Nature. "The collections are an untapped source of new material for study, and offer the potential for many new discoveries."

Xenoceratops was identified by a team comprising palaeontologists Dr. Michael J. Ryan, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and Dr. David Evans, curator, vertebrate palaeontology of the Department of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum; as well as Kieran Shepherd, curator of palaeobiology for the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Full Reference

Michael J. Ryan, David C. Evans, Kieran M. Shepard. A new ceratopsid from the Foremost Formation (middle Campanian) of Alberta. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 49(11) doi: 10.1139/e2012-056.

Media Contacts

Dan Smythe
Canadian Museum of Nature

Glenda Bogar
Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Shelagh O'Donnell
Royal Ontario Museum

Jenny Ryan
Canadian Science Publishing (NRC Research Press journals)

About the Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. It promotes awareness of Canada's natural heritage through signature and travelling exhibitions, public education programmes, scientific research, a dynamic web site (nature.ca) as well as the maintenance of a 10.5 million-specimen collection, which includes one of the best collection of horned dinosaurs (ceratopsians) in the world, and a significant collection of hadrosaurs.

About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, incorporated in 1920, is one of the finest institutions of its kind in North America. It is noted for its collections, research, educational programs and exhibitions. The collections encompass more than five million artefacts and specimens, and research of global significance focuses on 11 natural science disciplines. The museum conserves biological diversity through the protection of more than 5200 acres of natural areas. It promotes health education with local programmes and distance learning that extends across the globe. Its GreenCityBlueLake Institute is a centre of thought and practice for the design of green and sustainable cities.

About the Royal Ontario Museum

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Canada's largest museum of natural history and world culture. The museum holds six million objects in its collections, including one of the world's most significant collections of dinosaurs. The ROM is the largest field-research institution in Canada with activities that span the globe, including palaeontological research in Canada, Africa and Asia. Currently featured, the original ROM exhibition Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana is the largest exhibition of southern dinosaurs ever mounted in North America.

About the Journal

Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences—an NRC Research Press journal.

The Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences has been reporting new research in all areas of earth science, including palaeontology, since 1963. Though NRC Research Press began as a division of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in 1929, in 2010, it transitioned out of the NRC and the Federal Government of Canada into an independent, not-for-profit organization now called Canadian Science Publishing (CSP). Led by an editorial team comprising some of the world's leading researchers, CSP continues to publish high-quality, high-impact science through its 15 NRC Research Press journals.


Canadian Science Publishing publishes the NRC Research Press journals but is not affiliated with the National Research Council of Canada. Papers published by Canadian Science Publishing are peer-reviewed by experts in their field. The views of the authors in no way reflect the opinions of Canadian Science Publishing or the National Research Council of Canada. Requests for commentary about the contents of any study should be directed to the authors.