Hello, Aquilops! Paleontologists Discover Wee Dinosaur with Face of Eagle, Heart of Gold

Aquilops_skull

Aquilops_headThe Triceratops, with its cranial ornamentation and herbivorous habits, has long outshone the other -topses and -sauruses that make up the family commonly known as horned dinosaurs. That’s all set to change with the discovery of the 108-million-year-old skull of an Aquilops. With a freshly coined name that conjures a fossil-heavy water park, this creature was the stocking stuffer of dinosaurs: roughly the size of a small cat, Aquilops is estimated to have been two feet long and to have weighed a mere three pounds. The name is a reference to its eagle-like face (“aquila” is Latin for eagle, “ops” is Greek for face), distinguished by spike-like cheekbones and a distinct upper beak bone. An artist’s rendering suggests a certain resemblance to former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“We were excited that it looked like a skull of a small plant-eating dinosaur, but we assumed that it belonged to a species already known,” said Rich Cifelli, paleontology curator of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. “We didn’t realize right away what a big discovery we had made.” Cifelli is one of four authors on a paper announcing the discovery that was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The skull, unearthed in southern Montana, will be stored at the Sam Noble Museum, where it will be exhibited next year alongside the museum’s Pentaceratops, which holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest dinosaur skull ever found.