Meet Lokiceratops:
A Giant Blade Wielding Dinosaur

June 21, 2024
Above: Reconstruction of Lokiceratops surprised by a crocodilian in the 78-million-year-old swamps of northern Montana, USA.
Image ©Andrey Atuchin for the Museum of Evolution in Maribo, Denmark.

A remarkable, new species of horned, plant-eating dinosaur is being unveiled at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The dinosaur, excavated from the badlands of northern Montana just a few miles from the USA-Canada border, is among the largest and most ornate ever found, with two huge blade-like horns on the back of its frill. The distinctive horn pattern inspired its name, Lokiceratops rangiformis, meaning “Loki’s horned face that looks like a caribou.” The study included the most complete analysis of horned dinosaur evolution ever conducted, and the new species was announced today in the scientific journal PeerJ.

More than 78 million years ago, Lokiceratops inhabited the swamps and floodplains along the eastern shore of Laramidia. This island continent represents what is now the western part of North America created when a great seaway divided the continent around 100 million years ago. Mountain building and dramatic changes in climate and sea level have since altered the hothouse world of Laramidia where Lokiceratops and other dinosaurs thrived. The behemoth is a member of the horned dinosaurs called ceratopsids, a group that evolved around 92 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous, diversified into a myriad of fantastically ornamented species, and survived until the end of the time of dinosaurs. Lokiceratops (lo-Kee-sare-a-tops) rangiformis (ran-ɡi-FOHR-mees) possesses several unique features, among them: the absence of a nose horn, huge, curving blade-like horns on the back of the frill—the largest ever found on a horned dinosaur—and a distinct, asymmetric spike in the middle of the frill. Lokiceratops rangiformis appeared at least 12 million years earlier than its famous cousin Triceratops and was the largest horned dinosaur of its time. The name Lokiceratops translates as “Loki’s horned face” honoring the blade-wielding Norse god Loki. The second name, rangiformis, refers to the differing horn lengths on each side of the frill, similar to the asymmetric antlers of caribou and reindeer.

Completed reconstruction of Lokiceratops mounted for display. Study authors Brock Sisson (left) and Mark Loewen (right) peer through the frill fenestrae (windows) of Lokiceratops.

Lokiceratops rangiformis is the fourth centrosaurine, and fifth horned dinosaur overall, identified from this single assemblage. While ceratopsian ancestors were widespread across the northern hemisphere throughout the Cretaceous period, their isolation on Laramidia led to the evolution of huge body sizes, and most characteristically, distinctive patterns of horns above their eyes and noses, on their cheeks and along the edges of their elongated head frills. Fossils recovered from this region suggest horned dinosaurs were living and evolving in a small geographic area—a high level of endemism that implies dinosaur diversity is underestimated.

“Previously, paleontologists thought a maximum of two species of horned dinosaurs could coexist at the same place and time. Incredibly, we have identified five living together at the same time,” said co-lead author Mark Loewen, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and professor in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah. “The skull of Lokiceratops rangiformis is dramatically different from the other four animals it lived alongside.”

The fossil remains of Lokiceratops was discovered in 2019 and cleaned, restored and mounted by Brock Sisson, paleontologist and founder of Fossilogic, LLC in Pleasant Grove, Utah. “Reconstructing the skull of Lokiceratops from dozens of pieces was one of the most challenging projects my team and I have ever faced,” said Brock, “but the thrill of bringing a 78-million-year-old dinosaur to life for the first time was well worth the effort.”

Discover more about Lokiceratops by visiting the full article by Mark Loewen at @The U.
Read more about the story in Discover Magazine, ABC 4 News, KSL News, Science Daily, Science News.