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The horned dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus has become something of a paleontology icon in northwestern Alberta. This ceratopsian was the first major fossil discovery in the region and is known from at least two packed bone beds. Thanks to the abundant remains found at these sites, we know a lot about the life and appearance of this strange beast.

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Have you ever noticed that some reconstructions of the life of Pachyrhinosaurus does it look a little different from the others, especially on the nose and eyes? Spend enough time to view restorations of Pachyrhinosaurus and you will probably notice that the dinosaur is often shown with characteristic bony lumps or “heads” on the head. Other reconstructions, especially the older ones, show the animal with horns or masses of spikes on the snout and eyebrows. What’s going on here?

As with most extinct dinosaurs, our knowledge of what Pachyrhinosaurus It seemed when he was alive is inferred from his fossilized bones. Most horned dinosaurs have, well, horns. The familiar arrangement is one on the nose and two more on the eyes. In life, these bony horn cores were covered with a keratin sheath, just as the horns of bovidae such as cows and antelopes are today. This keratin sheath was almost never fossilized in dinosaurs, but the texture of the bone underneath tells us it was there.

Pachyrhinosaurus It is strange, however, because in this species the horns have swollen into large masses of bone that we call heads. A head is also what is called the padded mass of bone and keratin at the base of the horns of a musk ox, implying a similar use of these cranial features.

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It may seem logical to assume that the heads over the eyes and nose of Pachyrhinosaurus they just covered with a keratin pad and left it at that, as many scientists did. Others, including paleontologists Philip J. Currie and Wann Langston Jr., looked to rhinos for ideas. Rhinoceros horns, believe it or not, have no bony nucleus. Instead, rhino horns are simply a solid keratin spike that sits atop a chunk of rough bone in the animal’s snout.

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With little way of knowing which arrangement was correct, some reconstructions of Pachyrhinosaurus it showed the dinosaur with flat keratin sheaths over the patterns, while others gave it large and often elaborate rhino-inspired horns. Renowned Albertan dinosaur sculptor Brian Cooley made several paky dinosaurs with the arrangement of rhino horns, like the herd of statues that once guarded the entrance to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. There are others you can still see too, including ‘Piper,’ the animatronic dinosaur at the Grande Prairie Heritage Discovery Center, and the pakyrhinosaur bust facing Cafe at 43 at the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.

However, after a while, paleontologists began to move away from the idea that Pachyrhinosaurus it had these large, pointed horns on its cranial heads. A 2009 study led by Tobin Hieronymus compared the bone texture of Pachyrhinosaurus skulls to those of live animals and found that the texture of the nasal bump was similar to that seen at the base of the musk ox and African buffalo horns, which have thick keratin pads there. The smaller heads over the eyes seemed to have each been covered with a large scale. These findings were supported by Anthony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski in their 2013 description of Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum of Alaksa.

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While the only way to know beyond any doubt would be to see a life Pachyrhinosaurus , it now seems more likely that this dinosaur had a flat keratinous pad on its nose rather than a giant rhino horn. These kinds of back-and-forth ideas about the appearance of extinct animals date back to the beginnings of paleontology. Without a complete picture, we can only use our best educated guesses to visualize creatures from the past.

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