Paleontologists Discover Adorable Horned Dinosaur Baby

Art by Michael Skrepnick.
Art by Michael Skrepnick.

Dinosaur, roughly translated, means “terrible lizard.” The title works any way you look at it. Dinosaurs really were “terrible lizards” because they were about as unlizardlike as a reptile could possibly to be. Looking at it another way, the title encompasses the size, the teeth, and the apparent ferocity of our favorite dinosaurs. But it’s also a misleading moniker. Dinosaurs were not monsters. The non-avian species didn’t spend over 180 million years constantly stabbing, biting, and clawing each other. Tyrannosaurus was a terror and Stegosaurus was gnarly, yes, but there’s so much more to dinosaurs. For instance, some of them were downright cute.

In 2010, while looking for fossils along Alberta’s Red Deer River, paleontologists stumbled across part of a skull peeking out of the Cretaceous rock. Excavation revealed more and more bones, adding up to a nearly-complete skeleton, articulated and intact down to skin impressions on the ribs and the delicate ring of bones that were once encapsulated in the dinosaur’s eye. All cleaned up and now described by Phil Currie and colleagues, the dinosaur has turned out to be a baby Chasmosaurus – the smallest and most complete baby ceratopsid yet found.

A few pieces of the body went missing in the last 75 million years. The forelimbs and shoulders of the baby apparently fell into a sinkhole sometime before discovery, and the very tip of the tail broke off. But otherwise it’s a gorgeous for a dinosaur skeleton of any size, and drew audible gasps when Currie presented some initial photos to attendees of the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting a few years back.

The baby Chasmosaurus. From Currie et al., 2016.
The baby Chasmosaurus. From Currie et al., 2016.

That the nearly five-foot-long skeleton is a from a baby, rather than a small species, is given away by various osteological details. Aside from the size, Currie and colleagues point out, the dinosaur has a bone texture typical of young, fast-growing animals, parts of the dinosaur’s vertebrae aren’t completely fused, it has a large orbit for its skull, and its frill had not yet grown the outer set of decorations called epiossifications, in addition to other traits. It all adds up to one unbearably adorable little dinosaur.

But there’s a greater paleontological reason for quantifying the cuteness. In the past paleontologists sometimes named baby ceratopsids as dwarf species, such as “Brachyceratops“. That risk is still there. When Currie and colleagues put all the baby Chasmosaurus traits into a program to figure out its relationships to other dinosaurs, the infant came out as a primitive ceratopsid. But when they tossed out all the characteristics known to change with age, the infant fell into its proper place with Chasmosaurus. In short, we need to know how dinosaurs changed with age in order to make sure we’re getting an accurate count of how many dinosaurs there actually were.

Currie and colleagues will continue to learn more about the baby dinosaur over the years. The new paper is just an initial description. And while it runs counter to a mature and staid appreciation of nature expected of science writers, I can’t help but look at the skeleton and artist Michael Skrepnick’s restoration and think “Aww.” The infant Chasmosaurus has the same big-eyed, short-faced look of a kitten and looks about as fierce as a puppy. Had non-avian dinosaurs survived to the present, and had evolution still allowed us to develop alongside them (which, hah!, not a chance), perhaps our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds would be filled with gifs of playful baby dinosaurs in addition to our mammalian companions.

Reference:

Currie, P., Holmes, R., Ryan, M., Coy, C. 2016. A juvenile chasmosaurine ceratopsid (Dinosauria, Ornithischia) from the Dinosaur Park Formation, Alberta, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. doi: 10.1080/02724634.2015.1048348

8 thoughts on “Paleontologists Discover Adorable Horned Dinosaur Baby

  1. Cute piece, cute dinosaur. Why cute matters was best described by Steven Jay Gould long ago re the evolution of neoteny in Mickey Mouse. It seems, nobody likes a rat-face, not even a mother dinosaur. So how are we to explain Ted Cruz?

    1. It is sad that Christians find it so easy to deny the existence of evolution. Im a Christian who has experienced dreams and visions. The best i can offer for this is the system of belief it self is to challenge everything that comes from perceived enemies. Mind blowing. I have a theory that when pangia broke up that the ark was actually the what we now call south America. Is this a possibility? Please excuse the spelling. Giving the Ark is really a good guess of the ancients its still a amazing turn off if mentioned amongst conservatives.

  2. This is a cute baby, which unfortunately was not half as winsome when it became a ponderous full-grown adult. But there were some dinos which must have remained adorable all throughout life. The little ceratopsid ancestor Chaoyangsaurus is one such. The near-mammal Oligokyphus is another. Their eternally babyish expressions, their innate cuteness, seem to tell us that, like prehistoric Peter Pans, they just refused to grow up.

  3. Please tell me more about your superior knowledge of Geological and Carbon dating, and how you were able to estimate the Earth’s age at approximately 4,500 years old despite not having any academic education in the subject. 

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