A newly identified dinosaur species has been named Lokiceratops rangiformis. The first part of its name, the genus, is inspired by Loki, the famous Norse god, while the second part, the epithet, is linked to the caribou or reindeer. 

In both instances, the researchers were inspired by the dinosaur's distinctive horns, which resemble the headpiece famously worn by Loki in the Marvel films. 

Cousin to the Triceratops and Styracosaurus 

The new species has been identified based on a skull found in the Kennedy Coulee region in Montana, close to the Canada-US border. 

The specimen was discovered by Mark Eatman on the private land of the Wolery Ranch in the spring of 2019 and excavated in the same year. 

The experts have now presented their findings in a paper published by the PeerJ journal

The new dinosaur is a type of ceratopsid, the family of dinosaurs that also includes the Triceratops, Centrosaurus, and Styracosaurus. Although several other ceratopsid dinosaurs have been identified in the same region, it appears that Lokiceratops rangiformis is an entirely new species. 

The research team, which consisted of researchers from the US, Canada, Panama, Denmark, and the UK, believes that the dinosaur lived approximately 78 million years ago in Laramidia, an island continent that existed during the Late Cretaceous period. 

Lokiceratops rangiformis translates to "Loki's horned face that looks like a caribou," highlighting its distinct horn structure. Source: UnexpectedDinoLesson (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Size is everything 

The shape of the skull found in Montana indicates that Lokiceratops had two horns just above the eyes and two larger horns at the very top of its head. 

Most types of ceratopsids have bony head plates and long, pointed horns, yet the researchers noted that the Lokiceratops has some of the largest horns ever observed. 

"This new dinosaur pushes the envelope on bizarre ceratopsian headgear, sporting the largest frill horns ever seen in a ceratopsian," commented the paleontologist and co-leader of the study, Joseph Sertich, in a press release issued by the University of Utah

The researchers also noted the remarkable diversity of horned dinosaurs, with their presence often confined to smaller regions and evolving far more rapidly than in other cases. 

"These skull ornaments are one of the keys to unlocking horned dinosaur diversity and demonstrate that evolutionary selection for showy displays contributed to the dizzying richness of Cretaceous ecosystems," Sertich noted. 

The researchers noted that this diversity among dinosaur species in the region may be due to sexual selection, which can lead to faster evolutionary adaptations. 

It is believed that over time, sexual selection may have led to modifications in the horns on the crest of the head, or frill, with larger horns perhaps making the dinosaur more attractive to mates. 

While Marvel's Loki is often seen wearing a distinctive horned helmet as a symbol of his sorcery, historical Norse mythology does not portray Loki with such headgear. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Inspired by the trickster god 

The dinosaur's full name, Lokiceratops rangiformis, means roughly "Loki's horned face that looks like a caribou," and is directly inspired by Loki of the Marvel movies and comics. 

Known as the Horned Helmet, the headpiece is worn by Loki as a symbol of his sorcery. The second part of the name refers to the fact that the two horns are of different lengths, just like the asymmetrical antlers of the caribou. 

In Norse mythology, Loki was the trickster god and a shapeshifter, able to change his form as circumstances dictated. Despite his portrayal in the Marvel series, however, there are no equivalent depictions of him in Norse art wearing a horned headpiece. 

Five years after the initial discovery of the dinosaur skull, the new research paper finally provides confirmation that Lokiceratops rangiformis is indeed a new species. 

A reconstructed skull of Lokiceratops can be viewed at the Museum of Evolution in Maribo, Denmark, which presents stories of the process of evolution, from the initial development of life on Earth to the present day.

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