The Enigma of Enigmoceratops faustuosus
Basal cenoceratopsians are hard to come by in present-day Spec. Most of our world’s horned dinosaurs are highly specialized for a particular lifestyle, and so divining the relationships between one group and another has proven difficult. A few generalized species, such as the dawnhorn, have been exposed to especially close scrutiny, and rewarded specbiologists with a wealth of new and exciting information, but our picture of ceratopsian evolution is still far from complete. Several species of small ceratopsian remain poorly studied, based upon fragmented or lost remains, and have refused to fit themselves into the new taxonomy.
Expeditions mounted to search for ceratopsians in southeast Asia and central South America have been plagued with failure, and few researches were willing to risk their lives tramping through the sodden jungle in search of ceratopsians, especially when so many interesting species could be studied in the more hospitable grasslands and forests. Spec’s scientific community, therefore, responded with shock to Portuguese specbiologist João Boto’s proposal of a new ceratopsian-finding expedition. Boto’s plan was to lead a team of researchers deep into the jungles of Borneo with the objective of studying this fascinating creature in its native habitat. He succeeded.
The secretive enigmoceratops was first described by Boto on an earlier expedition. This preliminary description was based only upon an eyewitness sighting, and Boto was unable to ascertain much about the creature’s behavior or anatomy. A later expedition conducted by Brian Choo around Spec’s Sumatra and Malay Peninsula managed to collect and preserve several dead enigmoceratops specimens, from which Choo was able to deduce something of the creature’s phylogeny, labeling it a basal brachioceratopsian (a classification which stands to this day). Choo’s own comments on the species appear in his monograph on Cenoceratopsia:
"It seem preposterous to think that this, the smallest of the Asian ceratopsians could be a close relative of the titanic undaurs, but Enigmoceratops faustuosus displays all the key anatomical features of the Brachioceratopsia. The enigmoceratops dwells in tropical forests on the Malayan Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra and Java. This 1.5 metre long animal daintily trots over the leaf litter, picking up fallen fruit, especially spiny ones ignored by ornithopods. They can often be found in regrowth areas, raising their heads to pluck leaves and fruit from low branches."
Aside from the Choo study, this odd little species was largely neglected by specbiologists. Enigmoceratops could well have remained an enigma, had not the species’ original describer, João, mounted his expedition to Spec’s island of Borneo.
Spec’s Borneo is a challenging subject for study, as much of the island is covered in poorly-explored virgin jungle. The ill-fated Shitashi-Berliner expedition brought a spotlight to bear on the island as specbiologists searched for the vicious "ninja" that had killed Shitashi, the latest expedition actually obtaining a specimen of the deadly deinonychosaur. As well as a slightly more detailed description of the ninja, the expedition also brought back some tantalizing photographs of a ceratopsian that the researchers of expedition had labeled a "Borneo undaur" (a more derived brachioceratopsian that inhabits Bornean lowlands). Boto, however, studied the photographs and concluded that the animal they depicted was far too small to be a undaur and concluded that it must be an enigmoceratops.
The first enigmoceratops specimen, described by João Boto, came from southeast Asia, the Malayan Peninsula, what would in our home time-line would be Thailand and Malaysia. The little ceratopsians have also been seen farther north (what would be Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam), by unverified eyewitnesses, but it seems the greatest enigmoceratops population density is to be found on the islands off the coast of the peninsula. Choo collected his specimens from the island of Sumatra, where the species was apparently quite common. The Australian specbiologist was quoted as saying of the enigmoceratops, "[They were] absolutely everywhere. You couldn’t shoot and not hit the damn things."
Luckily for the enigmoceratops, Choo’s stay on Sumatra was short, and he did not visit Borneo at all, although he did note that enigmoceratops had been sighted on the island. Most importunately, the specimens Choo collected from Sumatra and from the Malaysian Peninsula varied from each other in several respects. The island specimens were universally darker of color and larger than their mainland counterparts.
Most scholars consider all engimoceratops populations to be co-specific, but without attempting to interbreed individuals from the two populations, this theory is impossible to verify. Boto, noting that the creature in the Borneo photographs was distinct from both the Sumatran and mainland enigmoceratops proposed an expedition to Borneo, with the specific objective of observing and capturing a live enigmoceratops.
To supplement his expedition crew, Boto included Brian Choo, author of the most definitive report on enigmoceratops, Matti Aumala, the world expert on deinonychosaurs (another notable element of Bornean fauna), and Daniel Bensen, editor of the Speculative Dinosaur Project. Each agreed to accompany Boto in the search for his "missing link among ceratopsians".
[The following is a series of entries excerpted from the Journal of João Boto (translated from Portuguese) detailing his time spent searching for enigmoceratops]
After a night of sleep, we erected our forest lab. Entomologists set up their tables and equipment. They were going field collecting today.
After camp was tidy I, Dan, Matti, and Brian also ventured into the forest. Today, we were setting our first photo-trap (an electronic notebook with camera and motion sensor attachments would shoot a picture of any moderately large animal passing by). This was the area where the latest Borneo expedition had shot pictures of the first enigmoceratops and our hopes were high. But at the end of the day, we found only pictures of a large scytherbill in the notebook’s memory, and were disappointed.
I have nothing further to add. It was a truly boring day.
Some days have passed, we have begun our trek up the Borneo mountains. While our entomologists have boxes full of gorgeous butterflies, from Enigmoceratops we have nothing. Aside from birds, we have yet to see a single dinosaur species.
Almost a week has passed since our arrival on Borneo, and as we move further up on the island, the smell of durian fruit penetrates our cloths and skins. The odor is pungent, but the fruit themselves taste quite good, as I recall some butterflies sipping its juices with great pleasure. If a durian fruit falls on you, you might get killed; the big globular, spiny carp will fall 150 feet from the canopy and is quite capable of splitting a man’s skull. Nevertheless, we believe Enigmoceratops enjoys these fruits, as the only other animal with a beak powerful enough to break the fruit's leathery, spiny shell was the Borneo undaur, which is a lowland species.
A bit of talking and we marked our calendars. We had something like 3 weeks remaining to hike around the mountains before we would have to head back to our homes. Almost a quarter of our time had passed and we had still found nothing relevant to the mission, only a few fecal specimens of dubious origin. Further examination on our base camp showed traces of durian seeds within the samples, along with grit and unidentified fruits.
We were starting to get familiar with our hillside camp site, but we packed our stuff and decided to go further up, at about 1000-1300 meters (300-390 feet) high. The vegetation is still verdant but is starting to change; we see much more euphorbian and myrtacean bushes. Rhododendrons and the dipterocarp species are getting scarce.
The landscape is unbelievable, with dark, shaded areas, with running streams of cold crystalline water, ferns and mossy stones, multitudes of orchids, and many insect communities. It is a truly beautiful sight to behold. We have often to rest quietly against the ground to observe the exploding diversity of birds, butterflies and flying lizards. Primates seem to be absent, but we may yet see some pokemus species. We feel really blessed here, where no other human has ever been before.
As we move further uphill, the forest gets thicker. Large broad-leafed rhododendrons (p-Rhododendron fuscotaeniatum) with bright white and pink scented flowers fill the air with sweet intoxicating aroma. It was no surprise to see many bees and butterflies fighting to get the best blooming bush. The waterfall was getting stronger as we moved on and birds were getting scarcer.
Even though we hadn’t had any luck with photo-traps before, we mounted them here once again. We sat near the running stream and began to eat our dinner of canned food (we couldn't open the champagne yet, so we had only water to drink).
We made camp, and waited for the night to come.
Day 16 - An Enigma is revealed
Photo-traps didn't reveal anything. It has been a really disappointing morning. Our entomologist partners had a number of new species - more than they could count and name. We have nothing.
We were passing the bank of one of the turf-pond when our luck began to change. "Look", I said "What? Any traces of a dinosaur?" My eyes were full of tears "Footprints!" In fact there were dozens of different footprints, and we soon realized they could belong to males, females, and infants. "And droppings too, very similar the ones we found back near Pangkalanbuun", I said, comparing both samples.
Filled with hope once again, we went up to a secluded rocky niche near the pond and set up another photo-trap. Hours passed. An occasional xenoplat whistled from the water.
I started when the photo-trap beeped. "What? The dinosaur?" "Look João, there!" Matti whispered. "I see it, I see it", Dan replied, pointing.
A strange bulk was moving just ahead from us, near the water. The creature emerged into the light and we saw a small ceratopsian, delicately plucking leaves from the bushes that lined the pond.
The little beast stretched its neck from the low bushes. A small, boxy head stared at us in curiosity, and four disheveled humans looked back in consternation. The enigmoceratops was little different from its relatives on Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, with a slender build, long neck relative to its body, and delicately frilled, strikingly colored face. From the facial coloration, we surmised this individual must be a male, still fairly young because his crest was still quite small.
The enigmoceratops, raised its head, and ambled on along the bank to disappearing into the forest. The photo-trap whirred. We achieved our goal! It was the greatest sight I had in my many years of field experience.
We thought it was a male due to the bright head coloring. The body was spectacular too. No wonder few had seen the beast; it is superbly camouflaged against its environment.
The night soon wiped out the sky and darkness closed in. We were still feeling excited from our discovery, but our joy soon fled as we heard signs of Borneo’s other denizens. Tacitosicarus lives here, too. The Bornean "ninjas" have killed at least one man. Who knows if their thirst for blood is quenched?
Terrible, almost child-like cries fill to air, raising goosebumps on our flesh, growing closer as the night wears on. We do not sleep this night.
We awoke the day after our discovery groggy but excited. Brian says that enigmoceratops on Sumatra were very common if you knew where to look, and we hoped we had found a similar enclave on Borneo. These central plateaus, covered mostly by virgin intermediate forest, are quite similar to those of nearby Sumatra, and our hopes were high.
The climate here is noticably cooler than the lowlands, and the vegetation is somewhat sparser, though still lush. Highland orchid species bloom over rocks and tree trunks, and these attract many species of butterfly and bee. The waterfall and pond waters a great aglaia tree (p-Agalia) which spreads great roots before us and branches above. Cacalharas (Cacalhara cacophonicus) swoop about the canopy in search of the sweet red fruits.
Our team spread out along the banks of the pond looking for more Engimoceratops signs. Droppings. Footprints. Evidence. It seemed as if enigmoceratops had our camp surrounded, but the photo-traps were empty, and not one of us saw a live specimen. Is yesterday’s fleeting glimpse to be our only sighting?
Same drill as yesterday. We spread out further into the forest, but we searched in vain for most of the morning.
Dan and I were walking through a particularly dense thicket when we heard something moving in the bushes nearby. Thinking the creature might be an enigmoceratops, we raised our camera-notebooks and broke through the vegetation into a wide game trail.
Tacitosicarus, a ninja, stood in the bushy pathway. We saw black feathers, white teeth, wickedly curved talons on hand and feet, and glaring eyes, glittering with a sulfurous, metallic luster. We stood petrified in fear before the ninja.
The predator could easily have devoured us on the spot, but it seemed to be ignoring us completely. The two of us quickly recovered our composure and retreated into the bush. We would have left the area immediately if I had noticed another animal moving through the bushes on the other side of the trail. The ninja had melted back into the forest, and I managed to convince Dan to stay and see what might happen.
An engimoceratops, probably a young male, emerged from the forest, picking at fallen agalia fruit and paying no attention to its surroundings. The little creature didn’t even make it a meter.
The bushes exploded as, once again, the game trail filled with midnight predator. The mighty deinonychosaur leaped with lightning speed and rushed towards the stricken herbivore. Powerful talons hooked the flesh of the enigmoceratops, and the little dinosaur screamed in agony. The ninja soon sliced its prey and began to eat. Ever few seconds, the predator would stop its grisly work and call into the bush. These breathy, birdlike vocalizations were quite different from the screaming we had heard in the night, and we soon saw their purpose. Darting from the bushes came three tiny chicks, which soon began to eat alongside their bloody parent.
I considered trying to drive the ninja and its brood away so we could examine the carcass, but I decided against it. We wanted an enigmoceratops, but we wanted one that was alive!
Another night passed, but this time we waked to find no evidence of enigmoceratops at all. Maybe the murdered male was the only individual that had been visiting us all along.
"Not giving up hope, we took another walk around the waterfall. We approached silently. Stop. See. Smell.
"Hey, Look!" said Brian, suddenly, "There’s one of the little bastards now!"
A sleeping Enigmoceratops, laydraped over a fallen tree trunk, nearly hidden in shadow. The overall coloration was similar to that of the young male, but the head striking face pattern was absent, and we deduced this specimen was female. As I caught the tableau on my notebook, I noticed the smaller lump lay beside the recumbent form. "Wow...an infant."
We couldn't get much luckier. A male, one female and one infant. The balance was perfect, the expedition had been a success.
-João Boto and Daniel Bensen