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Behold “Hellboy,” A Horned Dinosaur Unlike Any Other

Illustration for article titled Behold “Hellboy,” A Horned Dinosaur Unlike Any Other

Paleontologists in Alberta have described a fiercely intimidating Cretaceous Period dinosaur that featured a distinct set of facial horns and spines at the back of its skull.


The new ceratopsid (horned) dinosaur was described by paleontologists Caleb Brown and Donald Henderson of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta. The details of their study, which was based on an analysis of nearly complete skull, can now be found at the science journal Current Biology.

Hellboy’s official name is Regaliceratops peterhewsi, the first part of which means “royal horned face” and the latter part named in honor of its discoverer, Peter Hews. As Reuters reports, it was nicknamed “Hellboy” because “its stubby horns above the eyes resembled the comic-book character of the same name and because of the hellish time they had in painstakingly extricating it from what [the paleontologists] called ‘evil hard rock.’”


The skull was discovered back in 2005 in southwestern Alberta when Hews noticed the tip of the snout jutting out of a cliff. The fossil managed to retain its integrity over the millennia, allowing Brown and Henderson to analyze it in three dimensions. The remainder of Hellboy’s skeleton was never found.

Illustration for article titled Behold “Hellboy,” A Horned Dinosaur Unlike Any Other

Regaliceratops was a herbivore that lived at the very tail-end of the dinosaur era some 65 to 100 million years ago. Roughly the size of a modern rhino, it measured 16 feet (5 meters) long, 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall at the hips, and weighed in at an impressive 1.5 tons (3,000 pounds or 1,360 kg).

Here’s how Will Dunham described the unique skull in his Reuters report:

It possessed a large conical horn over its nose and a pair of small, forward-curving horns over its eyes that were puny compared to its bigger close relative, Triceratops. Seven bony spines in triangular and pentagonal shapes formed a halo around the edge of its large shield-like frill.


The discovery of Regaliceratops is also interesting in that it suggests evolutionary convergence in the physical displays of horned dinosaurs.

Illustration for article titled Behold “Hellboy,” A Horned Dinosaur Unlike Any Other

“This marks the first time that evolutionary convergence in horn-like display structures has been demonstrated between dinosaur clades, similar to those seen in fossil and extant mammals,” remark the authors in their study.

An article from NPR explains further:

According to paleontologists, the “horned dinosaurs” fall into two categories — Chasmosaurines, with a small horn above the nose and larger horns over the eyes, and Centrosaurines, with a large horn over nose and smaller “eye horns.”

Unlike Triceratops, “Hellboy” has almost “comically small” eye horns. Along with the new dinosaur’s large shield-like frill, “the combined result looks like a crown,” Brown says.

“This new species is a Chasmosaurine, but it has ornamentation more similar to Centrosaurines,” he says. “It also comes from a time period following the extinction of the Centrosaurines.”

Meaning that the two groups evolved the same features independently.

According to Caleb, most of the horns were actually quite useless and were probably ornamental.


Note: This article was updated to include the NPR reference.

Read the entire study at Current Biology: “A New Horned Dinosaur Reveals Convergent Evolution in Cranial Ornamentation in Ceratopsidae”.


[ Reuters | NPR ]

Contact the author at and @dvorsky. Top image by REUTERS/Julius T. Csotonyi/Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta/Handout via Reuters

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I’m curious what would lead an animal species to evolve such a complex array of horns and spikes. Would it be likely that they were used in mating displays like peacocks use their feathers to attract mates?

I’m curious about the Artist’s impression of the Species. Who commisions artists to draw extinct species? The Archaeological team? What sort of brief are they given and how creative can they get when it comes to anatomy and colouring? Was the artist simply guessing when they gave the dinosaur a red frill?