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species is titanic
By Susan Milius
An oddball fossil skull in an Oklahoma
museum may represent the earliest
giant horned dinosaur species yet found.
The 1.2-meter-long partial skull,
unearthed from 74-million-year-old
rock in northwestern New Mexico
70 years ago along with some other
bones, deserves to be recognized as
belonging to its own species, says Nick
Longrich of Yale University.
This beast probably weighed
6,550 kilograms, rivaling Triceratops and
modern-day elephants. Paleontologists,
including those who reconstructed the
fossil for the Sam Noble Oklahoma
Museum of Natural History in
Norman, have until now treated the
find as a weirdly huge specimen
of the Pentaceratops dinosaurs
known from the U.S. Southwest.
But in the June Cretaceous
Research, Longrich christens the
dino Titanoceratops ouranos. The
species would add another branch
of giants to the horned-dino family tree and would mean that huge
size evolved in the lineage some
5 million years earlier than thought.
The head, among the biggest
of any known land animal, was
an estimated 2. 6 meters long. Longrich
found that the skull’s outsized nostrils,
the position of its nose, some of the cavi-ties inside it and other features resemble
not Pentaceratops but those of the
Triceratops and Torosaurus giants. It looks like
an early relative of those species, he says.
A museum display of an early horned dinosaur
is labeled Pentaceratops but may deserve to
be considered a new species, Titanoceratops.
“It would suggest there are a lot of
undiscovered horned dinosaurs sitting
around out there,” says Andrew Farke of
the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, Calif. “Right now,
I’m skeptical but convincible on the
validity of Titanoceratops.”
Don’t trust any elephant under 60
Older matriarchs are better judges of danger to their clans
By Susan Milius
In a test of a particular leadership skill
among elephants, age and experience
have trumped youth and beauty.
Elephant matriarchs 60 years of
age or older tended to
assess threats in a simulated crisis more accurately than younger
matriarchs did, says
Karen McComb of the
University of Sussex in
played recordings of
various lion roars, elephant groups led by older matriarchs
grew especially defensive at the sound
of male cats. Younger matriarchs’
families underreacted, McComb and
her colleagues report in an upcoming
Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The older females have it right,
McComb says. Male lions rarely attack
an elephant, but when they do they can
be especially deadly: Even a single male
can bring down an elephant calf.
The new study supports the idea that older
individuals show more
leadership in tasks
knowledge and extends
that notion to threats.
“There is an interesting trade-off here,
applies to humans and
maybe elephants as well,” says psychologist Mark van Vugt of VU University
Amsterdam, who studies the evolution
of leadership. “The group might want
a young, fit and aggressive leader to
Elephant groups in Kenya with
older matriarchs responded
more appropriately to lion
roars as potential threats.
defend the group ... but at the same time
might want an older, more experienced
leader ... to make an accurate assessment
of the dangers in the situation.”
McComb and her colleagues played
lion calls to 39 elephant families in
Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.
Researchers compared reactions to
roars from one lion versus three lions.
All the matriarchs correctly perceived
that three was more worrisome than one.
“It was quite a revelation,” says coauthor
Graeme Shannon, also of Sussex. Before
this test, evidence had been unclear
about how widespread numerical threat
assessment capabilities would be. But the
older matriarchs also managed an addi-
tional layer of awareness, judging male
lions as more threatening than females.
“If you remove these older individuals,
you’re going to have a much bigger impact
than you realize because they’re repositories of ecological knowledge and also of
social knowledge,” McComb says. Poachers, targeting the big old elephants, pose a
particular menace to the species.
FrOm TOp: SanFOrd mauldin, © Sam nOble muSeum/univ. OF OklahOma; k. mccOmb