Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Horse Dragon," Colossus Dinosaurs establish in Utah

A shield-toothed horse-dragon may sound similar to a mythical creature, but the recently portrays dinosaur once roamed the U.S. West, a new study says.

The 125-million-year-old herbivore Hippodraco scutodens—whose partial skull and skeleton were unearthed in 2004 in eastern Utah—has a long, low skull similar to a horse's and a mouth filled with shield-shaped teeth.

Hippo and draco are Latin for "horse" and "dragon" correspondingly, while scutum means "oblong shield" and dens means "tooth."

Also exposed just, fossils of another recently described species from the same time period, Iguanacolossus fortis, were found in 2005 not far from Hippodraco.

That "ponderous beast" is named for its comparatively large size—about 30 feet (9 meters) long, compared with Hippodraco's 15 feet (4.5 meters), according to the study.

Iguanacolossus's teeth look like those of Iguanodon, a related, 33-foot (10-meter) North American herbivore that possible lived a few million years before Hippodraco.

Both of the newfound dinosaurs are iguanodonts, an "extremely successful" group of plant-eaters that prolonged worldwide during the early Cretaceous period, the study team wrote.

Despite their abundance, North American iguanodonts from this period are rare in the fossil record—excluding in one Utah rock formation, which spans about 40 million years and includes fossils of many types of creatures, according to study leader Andrew McDonald, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

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