Sheep-sized dinosaur attracted sexual partners with huge neck frill, new study suggests

Size mattered for an amorous protoceratops

Colin Drury
Wednesday 03 February 2021 07:24
Comments
Protoceratops
Protoceratops

A sheep-sized dinosaur that lived more than 70 million years ago evolved to have a huge neck frill as a result of sexual selection, according to scientists.

The protoceratops was a 1.8m-long plant-eater that roamed what is now Mongolia's Gobi Desert.

It was previously believed that its elaborate frill was there to protect its neck from predators or possibly as a means of regulating body temperature.

But a new study says its most important function was actually probably to attract mates in a similar way that a peacock uses its plume.

Dr Andrew Knapp, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum, said: "In many fossil animals we have unusual structures and traits which aren't really seen in living animals today.

"Protoceratops didn't have any horns but they still had a huge frill.

"Several theories have previously been suggested for the emergence of these neck frills.

"Some have suggested that they were used for protection, others that they played a role in cooling the large herbivores down, or that they allowed individuals to recognise different members of their own species."

But, in research to be published on Wednesday, he and his team analysed 3D scans of 30 complete skulls of the pre-historic animal.

What they discovered was that the neck frills got larger with time, suggesting the growth was a direct result of sexual selection. That is, it was a trait which became increasingly more prominent because it was favoured by members of the opposite sex and, therefore, became more dominant.

While sexual selection appears to be in action in the fossils, the scientist found no obvious evidence of sexual dimorphism - where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond their sexual organs - although this characteristic may have been present in the creatures.

Dr Knapp said: "There almost certainly were differences between males and females but quite often differences are in body size, so males will be bigger than females or vice versa.

"It could also have been through something else like colouration, which doesn't preserve in fossils."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in