Kosmoceratops

kosmoceratops
Kosmoceratops (University of Utah).

Name:

Kosmoceratops (Greek for "ornate horned face"); pronounced KOZZ-moe-SEH-rah-tops

Habitat:

Plains and woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (75-65 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 15 feet long and 1-2 tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Quadrupedal posture; ornate skull with numerous horns and downward-curving frill

 

About Kosmoceratops

For years, Styracosaurus held the title as the world's most ornately decorated ceratopsian dinosaur--until the recent discovery of Kosmoceratops (Greek for "ornate horned face") in southern Utah.

Kosmoceratops sported so many evolutionary bells and whistles on its massive skull that it's a wonder it didn't topple over when it walked: this elephant-sized herbivore's head was decorated with no less than 15 horns and horn-like structures of various sizes, including a pair of large horns above its eyes vaguely resembling those of a bull, as well as a downward-curving, bizarrely segmented frill completely unlike anything seen in any previous ceratopsian.

As is the case with another recently discovered horned frilled dinosaur, Utahceratops, the strange appearance of Kosmoceratops can at least partially be explained by its unique habitat. This dinosaur lived on a large island in western North America, called Laramidia, that was demarcated and bordered by the shallow Western Interior Sea, which covered much of the continent's interior during the late Cretaceous period. Relatively isolated from the mainstream of dinosaur evolution, Kosmoceratops, like the other fauna of Laramidia, was free to progress in its bizarre direction.

The question remains, though: why did Kosmoceratops evolve such a unique combination of frill and horns? Usually, the main driver of such an evolutionary process is sexual selection--over the course of millions of years, female Kosmoceratops came to favor multiple horns and funky frills during mating season, creating an "arms race" among males to outdo one another.

But these features may also have evolved as a way to differentiate Kosmoceratops from other ceratopsian species (it wouldn't do for a juvenile Kosmoceratops to accidentally join a herd of Chasmosaurus), or even for purposes of communication (say, a Kosmoceratos alpha turning its frill pink to signal danger).