Home Evolution Did triceratops’ cousin ‘Hellboy’ use its big noggin for sex?

Did triceratops’ cousin ‘Hellboy’ use its big noggin for sex?

It’s easy to imagine that scientists mostly have it all figured out when it comes to the dinosaurs of ancient times. That is, until you realize the fossil record is infinitesimally small compared to the number of creatures roaming the Earth tens of millions of years ago, leaving plenty of opportunity for new and exciting discoveries. Case in point, Regaliceratops peterhewsi, a new species of horned dinosaur that appears to be the link between the two known classifications, according to analysis by researchers at the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Given it’s massive 592 lb skull and tiny horns above its eyes, the researchers have lovingly nicknamed it “Hellboy.”

The skull was originally unearthed by Geologist Peter Hews a decade ago, though paleontologists have only now had the opportunity to examine the fully excavated and cleaned specimen. Once they did, they realized that Hellboy is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Presently, there are two known classifications of horned dinosaurs: Chasmosaurines, which includes the well-known Triceratops, feature small nose horns, large brow horns and a large frill. Centrosaurines, on the other hand, have large nose horns, small brow horns and small frills.

What makes Hellboy so remarkable? He has features of both: The horn configuration of Centrosaurines, but the large frill of his Triceratops cousin. The scientists believe this is evidence that Hellboy was more closely related to Chasmosaurines, but independently evolved traits of the other classification. Dated at 70 million years, Hellboy would have roamed the Earth after scientists believe Centrosaurines had gone extinct. It’s possible, then that an ancestor representing this evolutionary convergence has yet to be found.

“This find tells us more about the kinds of horned dinosaurs that lived just before Triceratops was on the scene,” Andrew Farke, curator at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology told Smithsonian. “I am now really curious to see what other oddities might have been around at the same time—this new beast is an important data point.”

Since things like horns and frills were apparently more variable at the time than anyone previously thought, scientists have begun to rethink the classic image of dinosaurs like Triceratops using its massive facial features to fight off predators. Instead, they believe, the ornamentation may have served as a signal of health and virility, not unlike the antlers we see on cloven-hoofed animals today.