Name Meaning:  Three Horn Face

order Lyrica samples Geologic Era:  Late Cretaceous

Mpumalanga Estimated Range:  North America Location Discovered:  Hell Creek Formation

Size:  9 meters long, 3 meters tall

Extinction Date:  65 million years (K-T extinction)

Easily one of the most recognizable dinosaurs, Triceratops has been featured in movies and television, as well as the computer game Saurian.  The most distinguishing feature of this species is the set of horns present on the face, as well as the bony frill extending from the back of the skull and partially covering the neck.  Our specimen is a tooth, probably lost when it became too worn down to effectively grind plant matter. We also have a cast of a skull, which is roughly 20% of the adult size.

Triceratops is popularly shown as living in herds, as modern elephants do.  There is actually very little fossil evident to support this hypothesis, as Triceratops is frequently found alone.  However, there is some evidence that Triceratops may have lived in smaller, family units.  There have been a few instances where small groups have been found together, and there is usually a discernible age difference between the individuals.  In this case, the adults would probably have looked after the juveniles until they were old enough and large enough to fend for themselves.

This would have been a very viable survival strategy, as the Hell Creek area was home to several types of predatory dinosaurs, including Acheroraptor, Tyrannosaurus, and the newly discovered Dakotaraptor.  Either of the raptors could easily kill a juvenile, but would probably hesitate to take on an adult.  Tyrannosaurus would have been the only consistent threat throughout a Triceratops’ life.   

The purpose of the horns and frill have been debated by paleontologists for decades.  One commonly pictured scenario is that the horns were used for defense.  While possible, this is a less likely scenario.  Predatory dinosaurs tended to be more agile than their herbivorous counterparts, so a  Triceratops would have had a difficult time scoring a hit on a predator.  That being said, the horns and shield could have been a very effective visual deterrent to a predator.  

A more likely use is intraspecific competition for mates and territory.  Some Triceratops frills do show evidence of injuries that are consistent with the size and shape of a brow horn.  The frills were also probably brightly colored, which would have aided species identification.  The number of horns and the color of the frills may have helped ceratopsian dinosaurs like Triceratops figure out who to mate with.

Image Credits: 

Skeletons:”Yoshi-Trike-0006″ by WernerG2011 – Flickr: Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons –

Life Restoration:”Triceratops liveDB” by Creator: Dmitry Bogdanov – Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons –