May 19, 2010
At the end of last summer, on my way out of Salt Lake City, Utah, I encountered a dinosaur I had never seen before in the halls of the Utah Museum of Natural History. Lying on its side was an impressive skull bristling with horns, and the placard identified it as an as-yet-unpublished creature informally known as the “Last Chance Ceratopsian” for the name of the stream near which it was found in the southern part of the state. (Though, if you read Scott Sampson’s Dinosaur Odyssey, you got a brief preview of it on page 34.) Now, after numerous delays in publishing the book in which its description is contained, this 26-horned dinosaur is ready to make its public debut.
Described by paleontologists Jim Kirkland and Donald de Blieux, the 80-million-year-old dinosaur is called Diabloceratops eatoni, with the genus name evoking its “devilish” appearance and its species name honoring Weber State University paleontologist Jeffrey Eaton. A long-time friend of Kirkland’s, Eaton is a fossil mammal specialist who has eschewed going after a few big dinosaurs in favor of studying the many, many fossil mammal specimens which lived alongside them during the Mesozoic, so it was only natural for Kirkland to “get back” at his friend by naming a dinosaur after him.
Even better, there may be a second species of Diabloceratops waiting to be described from the Cretaceous strata of southern Utah. While Kirkland and de Blieux were not able to confidently give it a taxonomic assignment, they mention a second skull which is very similar to, yet slightly distinct from, the better-preserved “Last Chance” specimen. As Scott Sampson has stressed on his blog, there is still a lot of interesting new material being found from these sites, and who knows what else will be found?
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