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New dinosaur species discovered in Utah

A fossil discovered in southern Utah belongs to a new species of horned dinosaur, according to a team from the Natural History Museum of Utah. This large plant-eater roamed North America during the Late Cretaceous Period.

Researchers have named the four-legged, 2.5-ton, 15-foot-long dinosaur the Nasutoceratops titusi. Nasutoceratops translates to "big-nose horned face" because the species has a larger nose than its relatives within the horned -- or certopsid -- family. The second half of the name honors Alan Titus, a paleontologist who worked at the site where the fossil was discovered, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, for many years.

While other horned dinosaurs, such as the Triceratops, have "huge skulls bearing a single horn over the nose, one horn over each eye, and an elongate, bony frill at the rear," according to the University of Utah press release, this one has a huge skull "bearing a single horn over the nose, one horn over each eye and an elongate, bony frill at the rear." The findings were published this month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Commenting on the oversized nose, lead researcher Scott Sampson said, "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."

Co-author Mark Lowen added, "The amazing horns of Nasutoceratops were most likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn't enough, as weapons for combating rivals." A Nasutoceratops skull is now on display at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

The Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument is part of a former landmass called Laramidia, an area that was approximately the size of Australia and comprised part of present-day North America. Archaeologists have discovered Laramidia fossils from Mexico to Alaska, but there is a much larger concentration in the northern areas. At the time that Nasutoceratops roamed, the area was a subtropical swamp.

"Nasutoceratops is a wondrous example of just how much more we have to learn about with world of dinosaurs," said co-author Eric Lund. Lund discovered the species in 2006 while conducting graduate research at the University of Utah. "Many more exciting fossils await discovery in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument."

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