Move over Triceratops

Dino Professor 1 copy Courtney Tanner
(Photo Courtesy of Mark Loewen)

(Photo Courtesy of Mark Loewen)

U professor Mark Loewen helped discover a new dinosaur species this summer.

Loewen says the species, called Mercuriceratops gemini, is named after the Roman god Mercury because of its characteristic wing-like bones that protrude from its head frill. The new find was unearthed in parts of Montana and Canada and, because of the bone shape.

“This bone was so different … that we named a new species of dinosaur from it,” Loewen said.

The dinosaur was estimated to have lived 77 million years ago. When a private landowner dug up the first bone of the species in Montana, researchers were hesitant to announce it as a new species of dinosaur. The odd bone shape could have been due to a mutation or accident the dinosaur experienced, Loewen said.

When researchers, including Loewen, found a bone of the same shape in 2011 in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, they knew the bone meant a new species.

According to the study, the discovered bone was 793 millimeters, or just over two and a half feet long. Despite the size of the bone, researchers were able to recognize it as a skull bone because of previous knowledge of other frilled dinosaurs.

The new specimen found in Montana was purchased by the Royal Ontario Museum and is currently in its collection, under the care of curator David Evans, who also contributed to the study but could not be reached for comment. Loewen said there were no plans to display the bone.

Loewen, a paleontology research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah, also teaches a class about dinosaurs at the U, as well as more advanced courses in paleontology. The work Loewen does with the U and the museum is supported by government grants and funds from the museum and university.

He said as a researcher with great familiarity with dinosaurs like Mercuriceratops, he hopes to raise the profile of the U in paleontology. He’s also excited to have three new species of dinosaurs to announce within the next year.

Loewen has been with the Natural History Museum since 2000 and has contributed greatly to its dinosaur exhibits, said Patti Carpenter, director of public relations at the museum. Loewen was a content specialist for the Past Worlds gallery, helping to decide which displays would be most interesting to the public.

The Past Worlds gallery features 14 dinosaur skulls and more than 30 skeletal reconstructions.

“It’s a very lively, engaging gallery,” Carpenter said. “You can hear the roars and smell the rotting flesh.”

Utah’s abundance of dinosaur fossils results from being part of an ancient landmass called Laramidia.

Carpenter said the dinosaur work that researchers such as Loewen do for the museum is important to attract visitors because dinosaurs are popular with all ages.

k.tao@chronicle.utah.edu

@TaoKevin