Spotlight: Triceratops

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“This one was always my favorite as a kid, and now I’ve seen one, she’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw.”

Triceratops is an herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous. Near the top of the list of every 5th-grade poll of “What’s your favorite dinosaur?”, Triceratops has earned her spot through more than a century of study, scrutiny, and debate. The striking three horns, husky frame, and solid frill completes the image of an animal set out to be a warrior against the menacing jaws of Tyrannosaurus.

Since its discovery in 1889 by fossil hunter Othniel Marsh, Triceratops has always been the knight of the Cretaceous, so it were. The first fragmentary remains were of its two long orbital horns, and Marsh thought them to belong to some kind of ungulate. Eventually identifying the remains as belonging to a dinosaur, the genus was named Triceratops – meaning “three-horned face.” There are currently two species of Triceratops formally recognized by paleontologists: Triceratops horridus (meaning “horrible three-horned face”) and Triceratops prorsus (meaning “straightforward three-horned face”). The illustrations I generate are of T. horridus, based in simple personal preference in addition to a plethora of available references for the dinosaur.

The trike is relatively unchanged since its initial restorations. Anatomical discoveries/changes from the 19th century to now include, but are not limited to:

  • More suitable vertebral attachments from the head to the rest of the spine
  • A tail that, while still on a downward slope, is suspended off the ground
  • The discovery of integument; Triceratops had a pattern of non-overlapping scales in addition to large “nipple-like” bumps/scutes along the torso
  • Numerous specimens that enable paleontologists to generate growth series

My Triceratops incorporates elements from Asian elephants; notice the pigmentation on the bottom of the body and along the snout. This provides a gentle counter-shade for the animal as well. I’ve tried to tether the coloration to some of my behavioral hypotheses for Triceratops, which I’ve made analogous to moose. You have a large herbivore that’s perfectly capable of fending for itself. However, any form of reduced attention is more beneficial than not. Some Triceratops restorations favor flashy frills and heads; I’ve stepped away from such a notion.

I did give the trike eyespots on the frill and the lower back, however. Whether this is an effective way to deter a Tyrannosaurus attack or purely species identification is up to the interpreter. Another speculative structure I’ve gifted the trike are quills on the back. There is direct evidence of at least basal ceratopsids boasting some form of quills/bristles on the back. Triceratops does not have direct evidence of bristles, but it’s entirely in the realm of possibility.

That about does it for this animal spotlight. Be on the lookout for more in the future!

Until next time.

Skeletal references: 1, 2