Meet Judith, the horned dinosaur that time forgot

19 May 2016

A new Triceratops-like dinosaur has been discovered, adding another species into the ‘likely prey for a hungry Velociraptor’ column of the later Mesozoic Era.

As horned as horned can be. So Judith looked, limping around Montana 76m years ago, dodging the likes of Velociraptors for around a decade – it is luckily Judith died off before the Tyrannosaurus Rex came along.

That’s according to a chance discovery made by an amateur fossil hunter who just happened to be a retired nuclear physicist with a thirst for dinosaurs.

Land rover

With a Montana ranch along the Judith River rock formation – which is where the discovery’s colloquial name comes from – Bill Shipp went digging around his land with an amateur palaeontologist.

They came across leg bone sticking out of the ground, with Shipp hiring a team to help excavate the find – ultimately parts of Judith’s skull, legs, hips and back were found before the Canadian Museum of Nature got busy.

“I found it accidentally-on-purpose,” Shipp said. “I was actually looking for dinosaur bones, but with no expectation of actually finding any.”

Now, with an official name of Spiclypeus shipporum, the dinosaur is known to be a 4.5m long, four-ton plant eater along the lines of a Triceratops.

It is also known to have a severe leg injury, an infection that, along with arthritis, meant it probably struggled through life.

“It’s an exciting story, because it’s a new species, and yet we have this sort of pathetic individual that suffered throughout its lifetime,” said palaeontologist Jordan Mallon. “If you’re hobbling along on three limbs, you’re probably not going to be able to keep up with the herd.”

Hot, cold and tepid

There have been quite a few paleontology discoveries in recent years to keep dinosaur enthusiasts happy.

By looking into dinosaur eggs found in Argentina and Mongolia, researchers from UCLA have established that temperature management may have separated dinosaurs from what we consider warm-blooded species (man, dog, bird etc) and cold-blooded species like crocodiles and lizards.

Long-necked titanosaur sauropods, closely related to the largest animals ever to walk the Earth, and small oviraptorids, closely related to the Tyrannosaurus rex, were found to have blood temperatures of 90oºF and 100oºF respectively.

The researchers also looked into the environmental temperatures that these species lived in, finding that the smaller dinosaurs, in particular, were warmer than their surroundings.

This would mean that, for a period of time, they could elevate their body temperatures, allowing them to move quicker, marking them out from modern crocodiles and alligators.

Triceratops (not Judith) image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic