Fossil of Dog-Size Horned Dinosaur Unearthed in China

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Stubby horns and a small frill would have been of little use warding off such creatures. Rather, Liaoceratops likely relied on concealment and flight in the lush forests of the Yixian region for protection.

Complex Evolution

The discovery of Liaoceratops adds a few more pieces to the already complex puzzle of ceratopsian evolution.

"On one hand, the discovery of Liaoceratops fills the morphological [form and structure of the animal] gap between the primitive psittacosaurid and advanced neoceratops," said Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and lead author of the study.

"On the other hand, it introduced more homoplasies [body features acquired as a result of parallel evolution or convergence of species] and thus makes the early evolution of ceratopsian dinosaurs more complicated."

Examination of the Liaoceratopsian fossils (one adult, one juvenile) indicates that while Liaoceratops shared many characteristics with the neoceratopsians, it also retains a number of characters of the more primitive psittacosaurids.

Xu said this suggests that the characteristics of horned dinosaurs evolved independently of each other and, in some cases, more gradually than was previously believed.

"Basically, dinosaurian evolution is a complicated process and our knowledge about dinosaurs appears to be far from enough to completely understand this unusual group of animals," he said.

Xu's research was supported by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

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