New Dinosaur Named After U of G Fine Art Grad

March 13, 2012 - News Release

Being called a dinosaur isn’t such a bad thing, says Ian Morrison, a graduate of the University of Guelph’s School of Fine Art and Music. A new dinosaur has been named for Morrison, who joined the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) about 22 years ago.

Ian MorrisonThe newly named Gryphoceratops morrisoni is described along with a second leptoceratopsid (“horned face” dinosaur) in a new paper by Canadian scientist Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and David Evans, the ROM’s associate curator of vertebrate paleontology.

Evans said the small-bodied dinosaur fills a gap in the fossil record and helps scientists better understand dinosaur evolution.

“I’m honoured to have my work for the Royal Ontario Museum acknowledged in such a unique way,” said Morrison, BA ‘86, a technician in the ROM’s vertebrate paleontology lab. “Who knew that my artistic talent would lead me here? Every day I draw, paint, sculpt, mould and cast something new, but my subject matter is always prehistoric.”

Lower right jaw fragments of an unnamed dinosaur were found in southern Alberta’s fossil beds in 1950 by Canadian dinosaur hunter Levi Sternberg while working for the ROM. Recently, Evans retrieved the fossil fragments from a collection drawer.

After failing to fit them together, he gave them to Morrison. Within minutes, Morrison returned to Evans’s office to ask if his supervisor wanted the dinosaur jaw reconstructed.

“I’ve always been good at solving puzzles and putting pieces together,” said Morrison. “That day the puzzle turned out to be just as important scientifically as it was interesting to solve.”

Gryphoceratops morrisoni lived during the Late Cretaceous period, about 83 million years ago. It had a shorter and deeper jaw than other leptoceratopsids. Its genus name refers to the "Gryphon" of Greek mythology with an eagle’s head and a lion’s body.

Researchers believe the adult stood less than half a metre tall, making it the smallest horned-face dinosaur in North America and one of the smallest plant-eating dinosaurs known. The new species is the earliest record of the herbivore in North America. Leptoceratopsids are believed to have migrated here from Asia.

Evans said small-bodied dinosaurs are poorly represented in the fossil record, making this find an important one.

Said Morrison, “Over the years, I’ve done my best to support the ROM’s vert-paleo department, from advancing the curators’ research to assisting with educational activities to digging up fossils in Alberta’s badlands. I’m very lucky to work with a great team, and I look forward to contributing more in the years to come.”

Contributing authors were Philip Currie, University of Alberta; Caleb Brown, University of Toronto; and Don Brinkman, Royal Tyrrell Museum. The paper has been published in Cretaceous Research and is available online.

Gryphoceratops morrisoni

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