The creature lived 76 million years ago in the warm, wet swamps of what is now southern Utah and was remarkable in bearing 15 full-sized horns on its head.
Image: The dinosaur Kosmoceratops’ 15 horns probably evolved as a form of sexual display. Reconstruction: Lukas Panzarin/PLoS
The animal, named Kosmoceratops, had an enormous two metre-long skull, was five metres from snout to tail and weighed an estimated 2.5 tonnes.
“These animals are basically oversized rhinos with a whole lot more horns on their heads. They had huge heads relative to their body size,” said Scott Sampson a researcher at the Utah Museum of Natural History.
Kosmoceratops, a relative of the more familiar Triceratops, had one horn over its nose, one over each eye, one protruding from each cheek bone and a row of ten across the frill at the back of its head.
“As far as we know it’s the most ornate-headed dinosaur ever found, with so many well-developed horns on its head,” Sampson told the Guardian.
Scientists have long speculated about the purpose of dinosaurs’ horns. In the past, some suspected that beasts like Triceratops used their headgear to fight off predators, as depicted in the prehistoric clash between a fur-bikinied Raquel Welch and a Triceratops in Ray Harryhausen’s 1966 movie, One Million Years BC. Many palaeontologists now believe that dinosaurs’ horns were often more for sexual display and fighting off other members of the same species, much like rutting deer.
“In this case, we think these horns were really about competing for mates and more akin to peacock feathers or deer antlers, where it’s males trying to attract females or intimidate other males,” Sampson said. “Sometimes it’s good to have a way of visually ranking yourself relative to other animals. You can avoid unnecessary conflicts and that is probably what they were doing with all these bony bells and whistles.”