Canadian-led team identifies new dinosaur

Dr. Jordan Mallon
Dr. Jordan Mallon, paleobiologist of the Canadian Museum of Nature, poses with a model of a skull of new dinosaur species named Spiclypeus shipporum as it was displayed at the Research and Collections Facility of Canadian Museum of Nature in Gatineau, Quebec on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. The horned dinosaur, which is similar to the popular Triceratops, was acquired by the museum in 2015 and was found in the Judith River formation in Montana, USA, by Dr. Bill Shipp. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – It’s name is Spiclypeus shipporum, but you can call it “Judith.”

Those are the monikers given to a previously unknown species of dinosaur unveiled Wednesday by scientists at the Canadian Museum of Nature a decade after its bones were first discovered in the badlands of Montana.

Bill Shipp, who originally started finding pieces of the four-legged herbivore in 2005, named it Judith after the rocky area of his ranch where it was found, known as the Judith River formation.

“We tend to refer to it as a “she” because of the name,” said Dr. Jordan Mallon, the paleontologist who completed the analysis of the fossilized remains that confirmed the dinosaur as a new species.

“Having said that, we don’t actually know whether Judith, this individual, was male or female.”

Mallon christened it Spiclypeus shipporum (spi-CLIP-ee-us ship-OR-um). Spiclypeus is a combination of two Latin words meaning “spiked shield” in reference to the spiky frill used by the dinosaur as a defence against predators and shipporum is in honour of the Shipp family.

It’s believed the horned creature roamed Montana about 76 million years ago and is one of a growing number of newly discovered ceratopsids, the family of dinosaurs that includes the triceratops, which are generally characterized by horns on the face and elaborate head frills.

Many paleontologists toil for years and even decades in search of a new species.

Shipp, a retired nuclear physicist, found a femur from the dinosaur on an eroded, steep hillside on his property the very first day he decided to wander out in search of fossils.

“At the time we still didn’t know what kind of dinosaur we had,” Shipp said by telephone from his Montana home.

He and a friend found five more bones before winter set in. It wasn’t until two years later that they uncovered a portion of the frill and other large pieces.

After having invested time and money in excavating and preparing the bones, aided by volunteers and other scientists, Shipp contacted the Canadian museum during a business trip to Ottawa and it bought the remains last year.

What sets Judith apart from other ceratopsids is the orientation of the horns over the eyes, which stick out sideways. Most other species have horns pointing forward. This new find also had large spikes around the edges of the frill that either curl forward or project straight outward.

Judith’s bones also tell a story of a life lived in pain. The dinosaur was at least 10 years old when it died, said Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum. Despite its young age, it showed signs of arthritis and osteomyelitis, a bone infection so bad that a large opening had formed at the joint of one of its front legs.

There are now nine well-known dinosaur species from Montana’s Judith River formation, but there are likely many more, said Mallon.

“In the last 20 years or so we’ve effectively doubled the number of horned dinosaur species that we knew in the last 100 years,” said Mallon, who attributed the ballooning discoveries to a boom in interest in dinosaurs and the number of professional and amateur paleontologists hunting for fossils.

The new specimen, which includes half of a skull and parts of the dinosaur’s legs, hips and backbone, is now housed in the Ottawa museum’s national fossil collection, home to some of the best examples of horned dinosaurs in the world. Some of find is to go on display May 24.

The results of the analysis on the remains are published in the online science journal PLOS ONE.

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