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The Triceratops is another dinosaur who enjoyed its moments of glories on the big screen when it starred in "Jurassic Park". Although it is popular with many people, its notoriety does not quite reach that of T Rex. The Triceratops is a large ceratopsian quadripede (horned face) that appeared during the Late Cretaceous period at the end of the Maastrichtian era, some 68 million years ago. Ceratops are a group of herbivorous dinosaurs that have thrived in parts of Asia and North America during the Cretaceous period. This group includes psittacosaurids like Psittacosaurus, Protoceratopsidae (Protoceratopsidae) and of course Ceratopsidae such as Triceratops but also Styracosaurus.

Triceratops only had 2 real horns

Triceratops is the Greek word for "three-horned face". Curiously though, this dinosaur possessed only two real horns; the third, much shorter and located at the end of its snout, was made up of a soft protein called keratin that is found among other things in the nails of humans and therefore would not have been very useful in a fight with a hungry Velociraptor.

Triceratops had a huge skull

Triceratops horridus skull
Jim Linwood - Wikimedia commons

Aside from its long horns measuring nearly a meter long, what distinguishes this dinosaur and makes it easily recognizable is its huge skull garnished with a large bony collar at the back. The head of this beast was between 4 and 5 feet (1.2 and 1.5 meters) wide and the length of the skull accounted for one third of the total length of the animal. Surprisingly, the skulls of some other ceratopsians such as Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus were even larger than Triceratops. The largest skull of all horned dinosaurs belongs to the Titanoceratops.

Triceratops lived with the T Rex

The Triceratops occupied the same ecosystem as the Tyrannosaurus and therefore frequently fell prey to it. T Rex reigned supreme in the swamps and forests of western North America, and even the sharp horns of Triceratops could not protect it from this dreaded predator.

Two species of Triceratops

Nowadays, it is considered that there are only two valid Triceratops species:

  • Triceratops horridus (T. horridus)
  • Triceratops prorsus (T. prorsus)


Triceratops, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History

By 1855, fragmented remains of large horned dinosaurs began to be discovered in North America. But it was not until 1889 that John Bell Hatcher, who was doing research around Niobrara County in Wyoming, exhumed the first complete skull. It was initially wrongly thought to be an extinct species of gigantic bison. It is to Othniel Charles Marsh that the merit of having studied it and which in 1899 granted him the evocative name of Triceratops horridus. Over the next three years, Hatcher collected about 30 neoceratopsian skulls, most of them identified as Triceratops. Twenty years later, Barnum Brown has also found many skulls.

Fossils in large quantities at Hell Creek

The remains of this dinosaur abound so much in the Hell Creek formation that some paleontologists even joke that it is difficult to walk without stumbling on bones belonging to this animal. Only over the period stretching from 2000 to 2010, forty-seven complete or partial skeletons were dug up. Fossils have been discovered in several states: Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota, Wyoming and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Bone specimens belonging to adult Triceratops were collected as well as newborns. There is still a great deal of controversy about the remains of Torosaurus. Several expert paleontologists maintain that the remains of Torosaurus are in fact those of male Triceratops that have managed to survive abnormally long and that their collars continue to grow even in the old days. If this thesis proves to be correct, Torosaurus would only represent a different life stage of the same dinosaur species. This remains to be demonstrated formally.

Collection object

Exposition Triceratops Cliff
Triceratops Cliff

The fossils of this dinosaur are a very popular collectible item. Because the skull and horns of this beast were so broad, so distinctive, and very resistant to natural erosion, but also because so many specimens were found in western Canada and the United States, collectors and museums tend to dig deep into the ground to enrich their collections. Interestingly enough, in 2008 a well-nurtured dinosaur fan bought a specimen of Triceratops (Triceratops Cliff) for a cool $ 1 million and donated it to the Boston Science Museum.


Triceratops vs human

The Triceratops was by no means a small creature. It had a heavy and robust body to support the weight of his head and his tail was quite short indeed. Paleontologists estimate that the total length of his body was approaching 9 meters and that the largest adults weighed between 5450 and 7250 kilograms (between 12,000 and 16,000 pounds)! It's kind of like a big rhinoceros. His front legs were shorter than the hind legs which prevented him from making quick movements; he was moving slowly and clumsily and could only run at a maximum speed of 16 km / h. This dinosaur possessed a gigantic skull that could reach 3 meters long in some individuals placing it in the pantheon of large heads in terrestrial animals. In addition to the two huge horns that were placed directly above his eyes and the small horn that adorned his snout, the Triceratops had many small tips called epocipital bones that bordered the margins of his bony collar at the back of his skull. There were between 19 and 26 epocipital on the collar.

Bird beak

Beak and teeth of Triceratops horridus
Chaoborus - Wikimedia commons

A much less well known fact about Triceratops is that the front of its mouth was very similar to the beaks of birds and could mow hundreds of pounds of difficult vegetation (including cycads, ginkgo and evergreens) every day. He also had an arsenal of specialized teeth (up to 800) integrated into his jaw which was constantly renewed and which facilitated mowing. His teeth were grouped into sets called "batteries" and each "battery" included between 36 and 40 columns spread on each side of his jaw and 3 to 5 teeth per column. When the first battery became worn due to its constant chewing it was immediately replaced by the adjacent battery and this process was repeated indefinitely throughout its existence.

Colorful necklace

Triceratops collar
Ignacio García - Flickr

In addition, a large part of his skull was covered with indentations left by blood vessels as usually found below the keratinous beak of birds. This leads us to believe that the entire head of the Triceratops, with the exception of the cheeks and the area around the nostrils, was covered with keratin while still alive. Keratin is very colorful in birds and so we can think that the skull of Triceratops was also very colorful. A pale pink shiny collar could have many uses. It may have been used to signal sexual availability or to warn that a hungry Tyrannosaurus was prowling around. Several researchers believe that the blood vessels found in the Triceratops collar and on its face played the role of heat regulator.

Usefulness of horns

Triceratops is often depicted as using its broad horns to guard against and repel attacks by large carnivorous theropods such as the Tyrannosaurus. The discovery of some apparent pathologies in some parts of his collar suggests that this dinosaur engaged in intra-specific fighting probably to show its dominance before mating with females. One theory often defended is that the horns served mainly to signal to the other members of the group the relative maturity of the individual. This hypothesis is well supported by the fact that the collar and the horns of Triceratops dramatically changed shape and appearance throughout its development, thus differentiating juveniles from more mature animals.


The Triceratops way of life almost certainly resemble that of the current heavy herbivores like the rhinoceros. Its closely packed rows of crushing teeth suggest that it fed mainly on rough plants: cycads, ferns, conifers, palms, and some flowering plants that appeared in the late Cretaceous. He grazed vegetal substances with his long, powerful, pointed hornbill. His jaw was mostly made to cut and chop. Very powerful muscles attached the lower jaw to the collar. They served to amplify the movements of the jaw.

Where and when lived the Triceratops

Paleontologists believe that Triceratops lived to the end of the Cretaceous with its main predator, the T Rex. Evidence suggests that this dinosaur lived in the same place as the Tyrannosaurus, in western North America on what was once the Laramidia island continent, since all the fossils were found in the United States and in the Canadian West. Triceratops definitely disappeared from the map during the massive Cretaceous-Tertiary (Cretaceous-Paleocene) extinction. Following the impact of the meteorite, Triceratops and its herbivore companions were condemned because of the disappearance of the vegetation to which they were so accustomed and the large clouds of dust that formed around the globe blocking the sun's rays.



By the time that the ceratopsian dinosaurs had reached North America during the Upper Cretaceous period, they had evolved to the size of cattle. Their distant ancestors, however, were small herbivores, occasionally bipedal, that wandered into the regions of Central Asia and East Asia. One of the first known ceratopsians, the Chaoyangsaurus, comes from the Upper Jurassic era and weighed only 30 pounds. The latter possessed only the most rudimentary collars and horns that can be imagined. It is very likely that the first dinosaurs in this family were even smaller.

Social interaction

This dinosaur was certainly one of the most common herbivores of this time. This does not mean, however, that it gathered in flocks. Most Triceratops fossil discoveries are usually only of one individual; the only bone bed found so far was a group of three juveniles. The exact social nature of this beast is always a mystery.


Triceratops is a genus of ceratopsids, a family of large marginocephalians dinosaurs that have lived mainly in North America, including Styracosaurus.

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