The cheek horns and frill of a dinosaur species – a triceratops relative – may have helped the animal communicate, according to a new study.
Protoceratops andrewsi was a four-legged, small-sized dinosaur (probably the size of a sheep) that lived about 75 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. Palaeontologists often find fossilized remains of Protoceratops andrewsi in Mongolia.
Over the years, researchers collected numerous dinosaur fossils and noticed a curious pattern: In juvenile Protoceratops andrewsi, the frill was absent. However, in adulthood the frill grew significantly larger in comparison with the dinosaur’s size, the researchers said.
The sudden frill growth may indicate that Protoceratops andrewsi – that was an average of about six feet (almost two metres) long and two feet (0.6 metres) tall at the shoulder – used the structure as a social of perhaps even a sexual signal, according to the researchers.
David Hone, lead author of the study and a lecturer of zoology at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said that palaeontologists have long though that some of the odd characteristics we see in various dinosaurs were linked with social dominance and sexual display. The frill growth pattern in Protoceratops andrewsi is similar to other signalling structures in different living species, Hone explained.
In the study – published Jan. 13 in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica – the researchers measured the frill in 37 dinosaurs from hatchling babies, to juvenile animals, to near-adults and finally to adults. They found that the frill changed in size and shape and it became proportionally larger as Protoceratops andrewsi reached adulthood. The cheek horns also grew larger, although not as much as the frills, according to the researchers.
Rob Knell, co-author of the study and a professor of evolutionary ecology at Queen Mary University of London, stated that sexual selection plays a key role in shaping biodiversity. It is also very important in determining how new species arise, Knell explained.
Andrew Farke, a palaeontologist at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California, said that the new study comes with some interesting interpretations on how Protoceratops andrewsi used its cheek horns and frills. They likely played a role in reproduction, since the adults grew bigger-sized frills and cheek bones, according to Farke. The frills and cheekbones could have also signalled a social role – for instance who gets the food first – he added.
Image Source: 3. bp. blogspot
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