Triceratops has a new cousin with a devilishly good nickname: "Hellboy."
Paleontologists who excavated the fossil skull of the horned beast from a steep cliff in Canada had a hell of time chipping the 600-pound (270-kilogram) specimen from the hard rock—hence its pet name.
Only after freeing the fossil did the crew discover the moniker's pop culture connection.
"There are these really stubby horns over the eyes that match up with the comic book character Hellboy," says study leader Caleb Brown, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada.
Though it had much smaller horns on its brow than its iconic cousin, the newfound dinosaur boasted a sizable horn on its snout and a fabulous frill on its head. (Also see "New Big-Nosed Horned Dinosaur Found in Utah.")
That crown of triangular bone spikes inspired its Latin scientific name: Regaliceratops peterhewski, the first word of which translates to "royal horned face," according to the study, published June 4 in the journal Current Biology. The second word is the name of the geologist who first spotted the fossil about a decade ago, Peter Hews. (See more bizarre dinosaurs.)
"The size of these frill ornamentations blows your mind," says David Evans, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada who wasn't involved in the study. "If you found them by themselves, you'd almost think they were stegosaur plates."
This latest addition to the clan of horned herbivores known as chasmosaurs lived about 68 million years ago during the Cretaceous period—just before the dinosaurs went extinct.
Regaliceratops was especially showy for its time: Triceratops and other chasmosaurs from the same age tended to be conservative critters with smooth, unadorned frills. (See "New Horned Dinosaur Had a Funky Frill.")
But fancy frills had been the fashion in a different lineage of horned dinosaurs that died out millions of years before Regaliceratops, the centrosaurs.
Regaliceratops acquired its retro look thanks to convergent evolution, a process in which distantly related organisms independently evolve similar traits under similar conditions—such as the streamlined body shapes of ocean-dwelling sharks and dolphins.
Expect the Unexpected
Hellboy wasn't the first chasmosaur with extravagant headgear, either. Recent finds have turned up funky older relatives that lived alongside the centrosaurs, including the 76-million-year old Kosmoceratops.
Every time you think you've seen it all some new, weird ceratopsian shows up.
Dubbed the horniest dino in the world, Kosmoceratops boasted 15 horns and spikes on its head, including some on its forehead that curled downward like bangs. As with the tiny horn nubbins over Regaliceratops' eyes, these curly protrusions would have offered little protection against predators and instead may have been used, like peacock feathers, to attract mates. (See "'Large-Nosed Horned Face' Nasutoceratops Debuts.")
As the family tree of the horned dinosaurs (the ceratopsians) continues to expand, paleontologists have learned to expect the unexpected.
"Every time you think you've seen it all some new, weird ceratopsian shows up," says Nick Longrich, a paleontologist at the U.K.'s University of Bath who was not involved in the new research. (Watch video: "Dinosaurs 101.")
"We're probably going to be seeing a lot more strangeness from this group in the future."
Follow Devin Powell on Twitter.