This being Valentine’s Day, here’s my second monthly post featuring a new dinosaur discovery. Astute readers know that Protoceratops andrewsi, which is a predecessor to the ever-popular Triceratops, is hardly a newly unearthed species. However, a recent study of thirty specimens of these intriguing, sheep-sized dinosaurs looked at a specific physical trait that these dinosaurs might have found attractive in a mate. Like other Ceratopsians, Protoceratops possesses a distinctive and elaborate neck frill whose function is not immediate apparent.
The new study relied on 3D scans to document growth patterns of Protoceratops’ neck frills, and included specimens ranging from day-old hatchlings all the way up to full-sized adults. The evidence established that the neck frills grew at a faster rate than the dinosaurs’ skulls, thus ending up disproportionately large. While it is difficult to ascertain the onset of sexual maturity in an extinct dinosaur, the rapid growth of the neck frills appeared to be a sexually-selected trait.
Of course, anatomical features can serve multiple purposes, Previous hypotheses have suggested the neck frill served to protect the dinosaur’s vulnerable neck from predators such as Velociraptors found in the same environment. It’s also possible the neck frill helped in regulating internal body temperature, thereby preventing over-heating. Another idea is that the frills permitted individuals to more easily recognize one another, perhaps from a distance where there is a clear line of sight. Perhaps the frills enabled Protoceratops to appear bigger and fiercer than they were, thereby prompting those Velociraptors to go after smaller and less intimidating prey.
Where does this leave us? I, for one, am rather drawn to the idea that seventy five million years before Valentine’s Day was a thing, the Laurasian Protoceratopsians were eying each other’s neck frills.
Come back next month for my St. Patrick’s Day dinosaur.