New dinosaur species rekindles debate over fossil legislation

New dinosaur species rekindles debate over fossil legislation

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A newly discovered species of dinosaur is headed for the U.S., according to scientists, and it may rekindle the debate how dinosaur fossils are transported between two nations.

The fossils, which are slated to arrive at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, were discovered in Canada, and scientists say it would provide a major link in the evolutionary history of dinosaurs. The museum is slated to unveil the two new species, Unescopceratops koppelhusae and Gryphoceratops morrisoni.

“These dinosaurs fill important gaps in the evolutionary history of small-bodied horned dinosaurs that lack the large horns and frills of relatives like Triceratops from North America,” said Michael Ryan, the museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, in a statement. “Although horned dinosaurs originated in Asia, our analysis suggests that leptoceratopsids radiated to North America and diversified here, with the new species, gryphoceratops, being the earliest record of the group on this continent.”

The newly discovered dinosaurs were plant eaters or herbivores that lived from 75 to 83 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, according to paleontologists. One of the dinosaurs, Unescoceratops, was found in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site. Its genus name is meant to honor UNESCO, say scientists.

Unescopceratops reportedly lived with a small frill surrounding its head but did not have ornamentation on its skull, according to the museum. The dinosaur also had a parrot-like beak with teeth much lower and rounder than those of other dinosaurs. Its hatchet-shaped jaw also had a distinct portion of bone that projected below the jaw like a small chin, say scientists.

The other dinosaur, Gryphoceratops morrisoni, lived approximately 83 million years ago and had a shorter and deeper jaw shape than any other leptoceratopsid. The first fossils of the dinosaur were discovered in 1950 in southern Alberta. Scientists say the dinosaur was likely less than 5 feet in length, making it the smallest adult-sized horned dinosaur in North America.

The size of the dinosaurs make them especially important, according to researchers. The team noted that smaller dinosaurs are poorly represented in the fossil record, adding that the latest discovery could shield light on how smaller dinosaurs evolved into some of the largest creatures to ever roam Earth.

“Small-bodied dinosaurs are typically poorly represented in the fossil record, which is why fragmentary remains like these new leptoceratopsids can make a big contribution to our understanding of dinosaur ecology and evolution,” said the museum.

While the recently discovered dinosaurs have left paleontologists enthused, it has also reignited the debate over whether the fossils should reside in the nation in which they were discovered.

The debate comes nearly two years after U.S. scientists won approval for a law that seeks to protect vertebrate fossils found on federal lands. The U.S. Vertebrate Paleontological Resources Preservation Act was included in omnibus land-management legislation signed into law on March 30, 2009, by President Barack Obama. The bill requires a permit is needed to collect any scientifically significant vertebrate fossil, officials say. The bill also allows ‘casual collecting’ of common fossils.

The other researchers involved in the discoveries are paleontologist David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto, legendary dinosaur hunter Philip Currie of the University of Alberta, University of Toronto scientist Caleb Brown, and Don Brinkman of Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.

The identification of the two species is detailed in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Cretaceous Research.

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