New dinosaur Mercuriceratops used horns to attract mates, scientists say

Species named after Mercury, the Roman messenger god who had winged helmet

Mercuriceratops (Danielle Dufault/Naturwissenschaften)
Mercuriceratops (Danielle Dufault/Naturwissenschaften)


Paleontologists say they have discovered a new dinosaur with winglike horns on its skull.

Mercuriceratops, a relative of the Triceratops, is described in the journal Naturwissenschaften as weighing about 2 tons, having a beaklike mouth and bizarre, butterflylike protrusions on either side of its head.

From the journal:

The typical chasmosaurine squamosal forms an obtuse triangle in dorsal view that tapers towards the posterolateral corner of the frill. In the dorsal view of the new taxon, the lateral margin of the squamosal is hatchet-shaped with the posterior portion modified into a constricted narrow bar that would have supported the lateral margin of a robust parietal.

The Daily Mail called them "angel wings."

“We would never have predicted this from our experience with working on horned dinosaurs,” author Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and author of the discovery, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s modifying an element of the skull that’s never been modified before.”

Researchers announced the new dinosaur after discovering the frilled fossils in two locations: one in Montana, the other in Alberta, Canada.

"When a single fossil is discovered, it’s often difficult to tell whether it’s a new species or just a standard variation, or weird mutation, of a known animal," Amina Khan explains in the Times. "But the fact that these two fossils with the same butterfly-like protrusions were found hundreds of miles apart showed that they must be members of an undiscovered species."

Named after Mercury, "the Roman messenger god who sported wings on either side of his helmet," the plant-eating Mercuriceratops roamed the earth about 77 million years ago.

At the time, elaborate skull ornamentation was used by dinosaurs in North America to identify one another, "not just for protection from predators,” Ryan told

And according to Ryan, this dinosaur likely used the twin horns as a way to attract mates — and stand out from the Cretaceous crowd.

“This animal is trying to trick itself out to attract mates," he said, "and it’s doing so in a very unusual way."

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