WASHINGTON — The fossil of a new type of small horned dinosaur has been discovered in South Korea, the first of its kind in an area where such finds are rare, scientists said on Tuesday.
The discovery is helping researchers solve the mystery of how the horned dinosaurs evolved from small, dog-sized creatures in Asia to the lumbering rhinoceros-like dinosaurs such as the Triceratops that roamed North America.
"This is a rare find," said Michael Ryan, curator and head of Vertebrate Paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
"Fossils of dinosaurs have not typically been found in this region, whereas evidence of dinosaur eggs and footprints occur more commonly," Ryan said.
"This specimen is significant because it fills in a missing 20 million-year gap in the fossil record between the origin of these dinosaurs in Asia and their first appearance in North America."
Koreaceratops had a parrot-like beak that protruded over a jaw full of teeth, and wielded a thick fan-like tail that may have helped it swim.
"The tail is cool," Ryan told AFP. "The deep part of the tail is at the very end of it.
"It suggests in the past they might have used them for things like swimming. They might have also used them for species recognition or sexual selection."
Ryan co-authored the research led by Yuong-Nam Lee of the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, published in the November 18 online edition of the journal Naturwissenchaften: The Science of Nature.
The Koreaceratops stood about five feet six inches (1.67 meters) and weighed 60-100 pounds (27-45 kilograms), so was much smaller than the giant Triceratops that roamed North America and weighed in at 13,000 pounds (5,900 kilograms).
The dinosaur was likely a swift runner, using its two hind legs to stand upright and keeping its hands free for grasping plants and aquatic greenery for food.
Unlike the Triceratops, the Asian dinosaur did not have protruding horns but a shield-like bone with three ridges that extended back over its brow.
Scientists from South Korea, the United States and Japan believe the creature lived about 103 million years ago, during the late Early Cretaceous period, and so was geologically younger than the Triceratops.
As to how the animals may have made their way to North America from Asia, it was likely "a very long, slow walk," said Ryan.
"We think they certainly would have been migrating via the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North America," said Ryan, referring to the land mass that joins Siberia to what is present day Alaska.
Coined the Koreaceratops hwaseongensis, after Korea and Hwaseong City where the fossil was found, scientists have declared a newly identified genus, or classification, for the first ceratopsian (horned) dinosaur from the Korean peninsula.
The partial skeleton fossil includes a major section of the Koreaceratops' tail and backbone, as well as some partial hind limbs and a hip bone. It was found in 2008 in a rocky quarry along the Tando Basin reservoir.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »