A rendering of the newly discovered Bisticeratops froeseorum, which was found in 74-million-year-old rocks in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in northwest New Mexico. (Courtesy of New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico already is home to a robust dinosaur history.

Time to add another one.

A new species of a horned dinosaur has been discovered in 74 million-year-old rocks in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in northwest New Mexico.

A team of paleontologists, which includes Spencer Lucas and Sebastian Dalman from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, published the findings.

According to Lucas, the fossil itself was actually discovered by a University of Arizona field team in the 1970s. However, the skull remained largely unprepared (cleaned and restored) for decades, and that work has been ongoing. That preparation, plus new ideas about ceratopsian diversity, propelled recognition of it as a new species, which is what prompted the publication of the article.

The team named the dinosaur Bisticeratops froeseorum (pronounced “Biss-tie-SAYR-uh-tops frose-e-or-um”), after the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area where the fossil was collected, and for the Froese family of the musical group Tangerine Dream, one of Dalman’s favorite bands.

“Bisticeratops adds to the diversity of Late Cretaceous horned dinosaurs from New Mexico,” Lucas said. “It shows that important discoveries and analyses continue to be made in the state in our effort to understand better the history of dinosaurs during the last few million years before their extinction.”

The skull of the newly-discovered Bisticeratops. (Courtesy of New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

Bisticeratops was a horned dinosaur, or ceratopsian, from the same group as the famous Triceratops, with an estimated body length of about 18 feet. This plant-eating dinosaur lived in the jungles and swamps near the seacoast that submerged what is now northwestern New Mexico 74 million years ago.

The fossil itself includes most of the skull of the dinosaur. The skull of Bisticeratops shows bite marks from a large predatory dinosaur, probably a tyrannosaur, although it is uncertain whether this was from active predation while Bisticeratops was alive, or due to scavenging after it had died.

“We can tell that the bite marks aren’t healed,” Lucas said. “The bites came from either the dinosaur getting killed or maybe after it dies, it was scavenged. Usually you don’t see a number of bite marks like this. When you think about it, the bite marks are telling you a story as a meat-eating dinosaur got to it.”

The work on the dinosaur is being done in New Mexico. Meanwhile, Bisticeratops joins other recently described horned dinosaurs from New Mexico – Navajoceratops, Terminocavus and Sierraceratops – in identifying what looks like a unique fauna of horned dinosaurs that lived in New Mexico 73 million to 75 million years ago.

“Horned dinosaurs originated in Asia and came over to this area,” he said. “They started to diversify and there were many species. The discoveries of these species show the different complexities with each species.”

Lucas’ line of work includes plenty of room for discovery and finding a new species is always exciting.

“We’re the first people to see this species of animal from more than 70 million years ago,” Lucas said. “Bisticeratops represents a unique kind of dinosaur. Now it’s time for more research and getting the public educated about the discovery.”