Triceratops, or “three-horned face,” was an enormous herbivore that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, and died out 65 million years ago.
65 million years ago, the huge plant-eater Triceratops might have competed with his cantankerous contemporary Tyrannosaurus Rex for survival, as today he competes with his ancient nemesis for popularity among dinosaur buffs. Although he clearly comes in a close second in the latter case, popular depictions of this horned herbivore have him lowering his pointy visage at the hungry foe, while pawing the earth truculently with a short, muscular foreleg, and determined not to be made an easy meal. If he is to go down he will not do so without a fight, one just as likely to leave the pesky predator perforated.
Triceratops Fun Facts
One of the largest of the group of horned dinosaurs, Triceratops walked on four legs and had a body that resembled that of a modern rhinoceros. Triceratops had a head decorated with a frill, a nose horn, and two long brow horns. It could grow to about 25 to 29 feet long.
- Its name means “three-horned face” because it has three horns.
- Over time, when examining the differences between sample Triceratops skulls, scientists have thought there were as many as 16 and as few as two or one different Triceratops species.
- A plant-eater, Triceratops has a toothless, turtle-like beak and teeth that work like scissors to cut food.
An animatronic Triceratops at Brookfield Zoo measures 30.69′ long x 5.28′ wide x 12.54′ tall.
Judging from the fossil remains of Triceratops, found primarily in western North America, he seems to have been a formidable opponent for any would-be carnivore. A thick, bony ridge sprouted from the back of his head, and above each eye, a four-foot horn protruded. A third, shorter horn surmounted his beaked mouth. At 30 feet long and 12,000 to 14,000 pounds, Triceratops was the largest of the ceratopsians, or horned dinosaurs, to inhabit the semi-tropical world of the Late Cretaceous Period.
Triceratops was of the biological order ornithischia, meaning related to birds, and laid eggs. Relatives included the five-horned Pentaceratops, the fancy-frilled Styracosaurus, and the tiny Bagaceratops, a mere three feet in length. The name Triceratops means “three-horned face,” and was given by 19th-century paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh, who originally thought that a Triceratops skull belonged to a bison (Benton: 123). Triceratops walked on four stout legs, dragging its thick tail behind.
What Dinosaurs Lived at the Same Time?
In addition to Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops shared his prehistoric world with the club-tailed Ankylosaurus, the duck-billed plant-eaters Corythosaurs, and Parasaurolophus, and the carnivores Deinonychus and Albertosaurus. Some evidence suggests that Triceratops have may travel in herds, like cattle, which may have afforded some protection against predators, who would have had difficulty penetrating a phalanx of sharp horns and bony rills, if indeed such defensive organization was possible in creatures with such small brains. Whatever Triceratops’ defense tactics were and despite the formidable natural arsenal which he possessed, he lost on occasion, evidenced by Tyrannosaurus teeth marks on fossilized Triceratops bones. More subtle threats to Triceratops included small, wily predators who snatched eggs from nests.
The speed and agility of Triceratops are much debated, with one camp stating that he was slow, lumbering, and not a considerable challenge to most predators. On the other side is the assertion that Triceratops could defend himself with the speed and ferocity of the modern rhinoceros, charging and goring potential enemies. Triceratops’ beak could clamp down with tremendous force, ideal for snapping through thick vegetation, which he then ground up with a set of molars particularly suited for this task. The treacherous horns aside, Triceratops could probably deliver a nasty bite to an unwelcome predator (Bakker: 41).
Triceratops is a type of ceratopsid dinosaur which was a herbivore. Its name means “three-horned face”, and it lived during the Cretaceous period in North America. Despite the fact Triceratops was a herbivore, it was a formidable creature, and could be as long as 30 feet and weigh up to 12,000 pounds.
This dinosaur was much larger than many trucks and cars today, and it is easy to see why fossils of Triceratops have been found clutched in mortal combat with predators. Triceratops was a creature that was not to be taken lightly. This dinosaur was first discovered in 1888 by John Hatcher. It was recognized as a species of dinosaur when a skull was found intact.
At first, Triceratops was mistaken for being a type of bison. Because its skull was so strong, it has been fossilized well, and it is one of the easier species of dinosaurs for paleontologists to study. There are many different varieties of this species, and it has three horns with one being located just above the nostrils. The other two horns are located just above the eyes.
The primary purpose of these horns is believed to be defenses against such predators as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, who was an arch enemy. Other paleontologists believe that the skull and horns were used as a way of communicating with other Triceratops. The horns may also have been used to fight against other Triceratops which threatened its territory. It could have also been used for attracting mates, or all of these things.
Paleontologists who have studied Triceratops believe that the animal lived in hurts, and was social. This evidence is based on the number of different Triceratops footprints that have been found close to each other. They would have eaten plants and shrubs and would fight to the death to protect their young. Because of the number of fossils that have been found, many believe that Triceratops was the most dominant herbivore during this time.
For a long time, many people have thought Triceratops charged its prey and used its horns to stab them. However, recent tests show that the horns would have broke if the Triceratops hit a creature such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex with enough speed to stab it. Therefore, many paleontologists now believe that Triceratops used its horns more like the phalanx, waiting for its enemy to get close enough to be pierced.
Benton, Michael. The Dinosaur Encyclopedia. Wanderer Books, New York: 1984. 30-31, 39, 46, 52, 78, 95, 98, 102, 118, 133, 148, 157.
Bakker, Robert T. The Dinosaur Heresies. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York: 41, 168–169, 219, 224.
Valley of the T. Rex. Prod. Reuben Aaronson. DVD. Discovery Channel, 2001.