Meet the two-horned cousin of triceratops

Triceratops has captured the public imagination ever since the first fossils were discovered in 1887. But it's hardly the only horned dinosaur that once roamed the Earth. Meet the two-horned zuniceratops, oldest of the American relatives of triceratops.

Compared to its more famous cousin, zuniceratops was a tiny dinosaur. The fossil record indicates that triceratops could reach up to thirty feet in length, ten feet in height, and weight over 25,000 pounds. Zuniceratops, on the other hand, was a puny ten feet long and three feet tall, and a very mild 200 to 250 pounds. The creature is named for the Zuni people, a Native American tribe that lives in the area of New Mexico where the dinosaur was discovered in 1996.

Relative to other horned dinosaurs like it - known collectively as the ceratopsians - zuniceratops was both much smaller and much older, dating back at least 90 million years ago. That makes it much older than triceratops, which emerged a mere three million years before the final extinction of the dinosaurs. This two-horned little guy was the earliest known ceratopsian in North America, though he wasn't the grandfather of triceratops - their evolutionary relationship is more like distant cousins once or twice removed, though they do look very similar.

Over at Dinosaur Tracking, Brian Switek has a great post explaining how zuniceratops fits into the broader story of the ceratopsians. Here's a selection:

The remains of Zuniceratops exhibit a mosaic of features shared with both earlier ceratopsians (such as Protoceratops) and the later, more familiar ceratopsids (such as Triceratops). While the body of Zuniceratops appeared to retain a more archaic, lightly built form, the prominent brow horns, the arrangement of the teeth (set up like a pair of scissors to shear vertically through food), a curved part of the hip called the ischium, and other characteristics underlined a close relationship to the ceratopsid dinosaurs that would eventually become so common on the continent.

You can read the rest over at Dinosaur Tracking.

Image by Nobu Tamura.