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Dino of the week: the Leptoceratops - Triceratops grew to a size larger than an African elephant. Leptoceratops was closer in size to a big pig'

August 31 , 2016

by Wallis Snowdon

Millions of years after they roamed prehistoric Alberta, this horn-faced runt continues to live in his celebrity cousin's shadow.

Though their anatomy might suggest otherwise, the Leptoceratops shared a common ancestor with the famed three-horned Triceratops.

As part of CBC Edmonton's summer-long series Backyard Dinosaurs — which will feature a different dinosaur found in Alberta each week — University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Persons talked about the relationship between these two unlikely relatives on the Radio Active afternoon show.

"Although Leptoceratops and Triceratops belong to the same family, they looked very different," Persons said.

"Leptoceratops has no big forward pointing horns, and it was a small dinosaur. Triceratops grew to a size larger than an African elephant. Leptoceratops was closer in size to a big pig."
Frills, cheeks and feet

Leptoceratops did have a pair of short downward pointing horns near its cheeks, as did Triceratops. And the 150-pound dinosaur shared another key skull feature with its powerful cousin: a frill.

But unlike his bigger cousin, this lean little herbivore ran around on two legs instead of four.

Persons said their bipedal preference, and 'cheeky' face, give paleontologists valuable insight into the early evolution of the ceratopsian species.

"It shows how the ceratopsian family started out," Persons said.

"They were small herbivores, with no big horns, running around on just two legs. In fact, being bipedal is the primitive condition for all dinosaurs. They all started out two- legged, and multiple families independently evolved to walk on all fours.

"That's something that makes the evolutionary story of dinosaurs very different from of that of mammals. Among mammals, being quadrupedal is the primitive starting condition, and critters like kangaroos and us humans, who move about on only two legs, are the oddballs."
'Nobody's ancestor'

Though Leptoceratops and Triceratops represent two different branches of the same family tree, Persons said they represent two very different outcomes of prehistoric evolution.

"What I love about Leptoceratops is, all appearances to the contrary, it's nobody's ancestor. In fact, Leptoceratops lived alongside, not millions of years before, its big three- horned cousin."
'This isn't evolution as it is depicted in X-Men or Pokemon'

Though they may have acquired an inferiority complex, the Leptoceratops certainly didn't suffer from his stunted size.

Persons said both species were among the most plentiful in Alberta, and among the last to become extinct.

"This isn't evolution as it is depicted in X-Men or Pokemon. Things don't always evolve to be bigger, stronger, scarier, and more complicated.

"As Leptoceratops shows, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, and a species can be just as successful without growing more horns and frills."



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