The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada unveiled the skull of a new species of dinosaur this week.
According to paleontologist Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the extinct creature acquired the nickname “Hellboy” for its resemblance to the horned comic-book and film character and because it was quarry where the the fossil was found was “hell” to excavate. Brown was the lead author of a paper published on Hellboy this week.
More on new Hellboy dinosaur found in Alberta
The more than 1.6-meter across dinosaur skull was found by hiker only about a meter above the water on the bank of Alberta’s Oldman River. The waterline there varies widely by season, and the fossil was at the bottom of a steep cliff which saw dangerous rockfalls.
Moreover, the rock surrounding the dinosaur was extremely hard. Plus, that area of the river is a crucial habitat for Alberta’s provincial fish, the bull trout, which meant extra care and expensein the excavation.
In fact, removing the 68-million-year-old fossil took several years. “It was a hellish quarry to work in,” Brown explained.
It turns out Hellboy (Regaliceratops peterhewsi) is a completely new Triceratops species. However, Hellboy has the longest nose horn of any Triceratops, ranging up to 28 centimeters in length.
Brown calls the horns over Hellboy’s eyes “almost comically short,” and notes the dinosaur had a huge, bony shield protecting its neck and shoulders. That neck shield featured a row of triangular bony plates along its edge, almost looking like a crown.
Yet another horned dinosaur
As a horned dino, Hellboy is one more variation in a prolific family of dinosaurs. Researchers note the number of known horned-dinosaur species has more than tripled over the last decade and a half, and the variety of different horns is gradually cluing scientists in regarding their purpose.
“When the first horned dinosaurs were found — this was Triceratops — we thought these were probably used for defence,” Brown noted. “You have these iconic images of Triceratops doing battle with Tyrannosaurus rex. (But) the more horned dinosaurs that we find, the less the explanation of defence makes sense,” he continued. “There are a number of species where their horns would be pretty much useless in defence. What we’re thinking now is that these were used for display. These were to impress members of the same or opposite sex and communicate with other species. That plate at the back of his skull is pretty much a billboard advertising for that individual.”