Feb
20
2009

Triceratops liked to mix it up with other Triceratops

Classic confrontation: Triceratops vs. Tyrannosaurus rex.
Classic confrontation: Triceratops vs. Tyrannosaurus rex.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Look at the photo illustration on the right. It’s a common depiction of everyone’s favorite horned dinosaur Triceratops horridus facing-off with the Cretaceous bad-boy Tyrannosaurus rex. A classic confrontation if ever there was one, and one that’s commonly depicted in print and video.

Well, maybe it happened this way, maybe it didn’t. We’ll never know for sure since we can’t travel back in time. Not yet anyways.

But new research led by Andrew Farke curator of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in California is shedding new light on the purpose of the dinosaur’s horns. The research has revealed that Triceratops probably got most of its scars from battling other Triceratops rather than from T. rex. At least that’s what the evidence is showing.

Triceratops and battle scars: The Triceratops here at the Science Museum  of Minnesota  (top) was not included in the study, but it does have battle scars, including puncture marks on its face (bottom) thought to have been caused by the horns of another Triceratops.
Triceratops and battle scars: The Triceratops here at the Science Museum of Minnesota (top) was not included in the study, but it does have battle scars, including puncture marks on its face (bottom) thought to have been caused by the horns of another Triceratops.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The study involved analysis of several Triceratops skeletons in museums across North America by Farke and paleontologists Darren Tanke of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, and Ewan Wolff of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin. The team examined over 400 skull bones from 50 different Triceratops specimens, looking for telltale scrapes, punctures and other injuries to their bony frills.

Centosaurus skull: This ceratopsian species doesn't show as many battle scars on its frill as Triceratops but appears to have other problems.
Centosaurus skull: This ceratopsian species doesn't show as many battle scars on its frill as Triceratops but appears to have other problems.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Those were then compared to markings found on the skulls of Centrosaurus, a ceratopsian cousin that also wielded similar but smaller horns. And what they discovered was the Triceratops frills had 10 times more scars than those found on the skulls of Centrosaurus, Most of the damage was in the squamosal- the lower half of the frill – which is exactly where you’d expect injuries to be found if two battling Trikes were smashing head-on into each other.

"The most likely culprit for all of the wounds on Triceratops frills was the horns of other Triceratops," Farke said. "The combat would have been similar to that among modern antelopes and among deer."

On the other hand, it appears Centrosaurus didn’t take much to smashing faces with others of its ilk. Evidence seems to point more towards them having an inclination for blindsiding each other in the torso.

This doesn’t mean Triceratops (or Centrosaurus for that matter) didn’t use its horns for other things, such as sexual display or giving an aggressive Tyrannosaurus a sharp poke in the belly – it probably did both.

"I like to think of the horns on these animals as of like the Swiss Army knives of the dinosaur world. They were using their horns for a variety of functions," Farke said.

There is evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex feasted on the three-horned dinosaurs. This includes T. rex bite marks found on the pelvis of a juvenile Triceratops, and chunks of Triceratops bones found in what scientists think is a T. rex giant coprolite (fossilized dung). From this evidence, scientists can extrapolate that confrontations between the prey and predator surely must have taken place. I hope so anyways.

It sees every time we post a story about some new dinosaur research, somebody gets all out of whack and wants to lock horns about its relevance. This story is no different. One of the source sites I visited contained nothing but negative comments such as “No duh”, “How did we ever sleep before knowing this”, “Thank you, Captain Obvious”, and my favorite, “You actually get paid for figuring out this crap?”

I have to admit some of these same thoughts ran through my head as I was researching this particular story because the results of the study seem kind of obvious. But I'm not a paleontologist (at least not a professional one) and I'm sure the data is relevant to many folks in that field because conjecture and evidence are two different things. Besides I like reading just about anything related to dinosaurs and needed to follow through on this post so I can justify all the time I spent researching it and get paid.

LINKS
Study on PLoS One
ScienceDaily.com story
Discovery.com story
Story on USA Today

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

"Having an inclination for blindsiding each other in the torso" + this = yuck.

Also, awesome.

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 5:06pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

Much like our leaders in Congress, it appears triceratops didn't buy into the idea of bi-partisanship and suffered the consequences of their in-fighting.

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 5:25pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I agree... :D

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 8:57pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Nice article!

posted on Sun, 02/22/2009 - 5:17pm
shanai's picture
shanai says:

This totally made me think of this dinosaur claymation video that I loved as a kid. I think it's still being played in the Milwaukee Public Museum.

posted on Mon, 02/23/2009 - 3:10pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

What an awesome and terrifying piece of animation (despite some minor chronological inaccuracies).Thanks for posting it. As a kid, I would have wet my pants had I seen this video at the start of my dinosaur obsession. Back then there was practically nothing on dinosaurs, other than a couple books by Roy Chapman Andrews and some small plastic figures that came in boxes of Nabisco Honey Wheats. Well, I guess it was enough to kick-start my obsession.

posted on Mon, 02/23/2009 - 3:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

pretty neat artice

posted on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 11:14am
wallaby joe merge's picture
wallaby joe merge says:

cool video. i love dinos.

posted on Fri, 10/19/2012 - 3:25pm

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