Get to Know Terrific Triceratops
By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise
Image credit Tim Evanson, obtained from Wikimedia commons.
One of the most recognized dinosaurs is Triceratops. They are best known for their horns and bony frills. The word Triceratops can be broken down into three parts: tri- meaning three, cerat- meaning horned, and ops- meaning face. The first bones of a Triceratops were found in the spring of 1887. After more specimens were found and near complete skull was assembled, the dinosaur received its name we now know and love.
Triceratops lived during the Late Cretaceous, about 68-65 million years ago. An adult has an average size between 26-30 feet long, and paleontologists estimate they weighted between 5-9 tons. They stood and moved on four legs with a strong tail helping as a counterbalance for its large and heavy head. They were herbivores, graving on low growing vegetation of the time period. They had a hard, beak-like structure on the very front of their mouths to help with sniping and biting plants. In their mouth were rows and columns of small, flat teeth, perfect for grinding the plant matter. Teeth were arranged into groups, called dental batteries, two on each side of the mouth on the top and the bottom. Each battery contained between 35-40 columns of teeth and each column had between 3-5 teeth stacked. Like sharks today, their teeth in the batteries would wear down and be replaced.
The three horns that give Triceratops its name was all located on their face. Two were located on their browns, over the eyes, and one on the nose above the nostrils. Like horned animals living today, their horns had a bone core that would have been covered by a keratin sheath. If the exterior was injured, blood vessels in the keratin would be able to heal the horn. However, if the bone underneath was broken or removed, it would not be able to grow back. The frills on the back of their head also had a bony structure, but would also have a covering, either of skin or keratin. The exact nature of the bony frill is not known, but most scientists believe it was to protect its neck from predators or from sparing with others of their species. There is evidence of blood vessels being present on the frill which could have kept any covering healthy as well as possibly allowing blood to be pushed to the area for colorful displays. This is only speculation but is present in animals today both for warding off predators and attracting mates.
With an incomplete fossil record it is difficult to pinpoint the main predator of Triceratops. There is evidence of bite marks from Tyrannosaurus found on some specimens of Triceratops. Tyrannosaurs, like many carnivores today, could have been opportunistic with prey choosing to hunt and scavenge. There are some specimens with evidence of healing around bite marks, indicating that the animal survived the initial contact with the carnivore.
Triceratops is one of the most abundant dinosaurs ever discovered with several museums containing full growth stages. It will continue to impress and inspire future scientists for generations to come. Visit our exhibit “Explorit Rocks!” and see some fossils and replicas of Triceratops. Open to the public on Fridays from 1-4pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-2pm. Admission is $5 per person. Explorit Members, ASTC, and those age 2 and under free.
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