a plant-eating chasmosaurine ceratopsian dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of North America.
is a ceratopsian, specifically a chasmosaurine ceratopsian, and a culmination of eighty-five million years of evolution. It was the biggest of its kind and more than capable of dealing death to the carnivorous death-dealers. But it reigned for a mere million or so years before being wiped out during the K-Pg extinction, which just goes to show; size and strength count for nothing when a six-mile-wide meteorite lands in your back yard. The horsemen of the apocalypse were an unforgiving lot, even way back in the Late Cretaceous.
The first specimen now attributed to Triceratops
was discovered in Denver, Colorado, in 1887 by local school teacher and geologist George Cannon, and forwarded to O.C. Marsh who assumed its remains—a couple of horn cores attached to a lump of skull roof—belonged to a huge Pliocene-aged bison that he named Bison alticornis
. To be fair, a horned dinosaur had never been discovered so Marsh had nothing to compare it to. And even the following year when he named more horn cores Ceratops
, he thought they were spikes akin to those found on the tail of Stegosaurus
and still believed Bison
was, well, a huge Pliocene-aged bison.
It took the 1888 discovery of a third partial skull by John Bell Hatcher in Wyoming's Laramie Formation to convince Marsh that horned dinosaurs existed, and though it was initially assigned to Ceratops
as a second species—Ceratops horridus
—it was bumped out by Bison
(which was renamed Ceratops alticornis
) and became the official name-bearing specimen of Triceratops horridus
is derived from the Greek "tri" (three), "ceras" (horn) and "ops" (face) because of the three horn on its face. Simples.
The species epithet
, means "rough" or "rugose" and refers to the coarse texture of the bone surface.
of Triceratops horridus
(a skull catalogued as YPM 1820) was discovered at Buck Creek, Johnson Brothers Ranch, in the Laramie Formation of Wyoming by John Bell Hatcher in 1888.
: Late Cretaceous
: 67-66 mya
Est. max. length
: 9 meters
Est. max. hip height
: 3 meters
Est. max. weight
: 7 tons
? "Great wonder" (Cope, 1872)
? "Master Over Many" (Cope, 1874)
? "Perforated lizard" (Marsh, 1891)
"Solid crest" (Marsh, 1891)
? "Broken beak" (Cope, 1892)
"Ugly lizard" (Cobabe & Fastovsky, 1987)
? "Insufficient horn face" (Ukrainsky, 2007)
? "Two-horned" (Mateus, 2008)
? "Ojo (Alamo) Horn face" (Sullivan & Lucas, 2010)
? "Bison horn face " (Ott & Larson, 2010)
Named by O. C. Marsh in 1990, Triceratops prorsus
is the only other species of Triceratops
that is classed as valid.
Dubious and doubtful Species
• Triceratops sylvestris
(E. D. Cope, 1872). Originally known as Agathaumas sylvestris
• Triceratops mortuarius
(E. D. Cope, 1874). Originally known as Polyonax mortuarius
• Triceratops alticornis
(O. C. Marsh, 1887). Named for USNM 4739, (a pair of horncores attached to a skull roof) discovered by G. L. Cannon in the Denver Formation, near Denver, Colorado in 1887. These remains were initially thought to belong to a pliocene Bison that O. C. Marsh named Bison alticornis
. By strict letter of the law this should be the name-bearing specimen of Triceratops
, but the law isn't so strict on this occasion because the remains are a bit poo.
• Triceratops galeus
(O. C. Marsh, 1889). Named for USNM 2410 from the Denver Formation, near Brighton, Colorado, USA.
• Triceratops flabellatus
(O. C. Marsh, 1889).
Named for YPM 1821, a skull from Buck and Lance Creeks in the Lance Formation of Wyoming. Synonymous with Triceratops horrridus
• Triceratops serratus
(O. C. Marsh, 1890). Known from Middle Fork, Dry Creek, in the Laramie Formation of Wyoming. Synonymous with Triceratops horrridus
• Triceratops sulcatus
(O. C. Marsh, 1890). Named for USNM 4276.
• Triceratops elatus
(O. C. Marsh, 1891). Named for USNM 1201
from Lance Creek in the Lance Formation, Niobrara County, Wyoming.
Synonymous with Triceratops horrridus
• Triceratops calicornis
(O. C. Marsh, 1898). Named for a partial skull from Lance Creek in the Lance Formation of Wyoming. Synonymous with Triceratops horrridus
• Triceratops obtusus
(O. C. Marsh, 1898). Named for USNM 4720, a skull collected in 1890 by J. B. Hatcher at U-L Ranch, Lance Creek, in the Lance Formation of Niobrara County, Wyoming.
Synonymous with Triceratops horrridus
• Triceratops hatcheri
is based on USNM 2412, a skull collected by J.B. Hatcher in the
Lance Formation of Niobrara County, Wyoming. It was named Diceratops hatcheri
in 1905 by R. S. Lull who had second thoughts in 1933 and assigned it to Triceratops as "Triceratops
)" along with the remains of Triceratops obtusus
. It is now known as Nedoceratops
, though Mateus tried to change the pre-occupied name Diceratops
... a year too late! Some paleontologists believe this is a growth stage of Triceratops horridus
• Triceratops brevicornus
(Lull, 1905). Named for YPM 1834 from Lightning Creek in the Lance Formation of Wyoming, which now resides at the Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie in Munich as BSP 1964 I 458.
Synonymous with Triceratops prorsus
• Triceratops ingens
(Lull, 1915). Named for YPM 1828, mentioned without description.
• Triceratops maximus
(Barnum Brown, 1933). Named for AMNH 5040, 8 neck and back vertebrae from the Hell Creek Formation, Garfield County, Montana, that cannot be assigned to Triceratops
with any certainty.
• Triceratops eurycephalus
(Schlaikjer 1935). Named for MCZ 1102, a nearly complete skull from Horse Creek in the Lance Formation, Goshen County, Wyoming.
• Triceratops albertensis
(Sternberg, 1949). Named for NMC 8862, an incomplete skull from Red Deer River in the Scollard Formation of Drumheller, Alberta.
• O.C. Marsh (1889) "Notice of gigantic horned Dinosauria from the Cretaceous". The American Journal of Science, Series 3, Volume 38.
• O.C. Marsh (1888) "A new family of horned Dinosauria, from the Cretaceous
• D. B. Weishampel and N. M. White "The Dinosaur Papers (1676-1906)
• K. Carpenter and P. J. Currie (1992) "Dinosaur Systematics: Approaches and Perspectives
• P. Dodson, C.A. Forster and S.D. Sampson (2004) "Ceratopsidae" in Weishampel, Dodson and Osmólska (eds.) "The Dinosauria: Second Edition
• Peter Dodson (1998) "The Horned Dinosaurs: a Natural History
• R. S. Lull (1933) "A revision of the Ceratopsia or horned dinosaurs
". Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
• Scannella, J. and Horner, J.R. (2010) "Torosaurus
Marsh, 1891, is Triceratops
Marsh, 1889 (Ceratopsidae: Chasmosaurinae): synonymy through ontogeny".
• Nicholas R. Longrich and Daniel J. Field (2012) "Torosaurus
is not Triceratops
: ontogeny in chasmosaurine ceratopsids as a case study in dinosaur taxonomy".
• Gregory M. Erickson, Mark A. Sidebottom, David I. Kay, Kevin T. Turner, Nathan Ip, Mark A. Norell, W. Gregory Sawyer, Brandon A. Krick (2015) "Wear biomechanics in the slicing dentition of the giant horned dinosaur Triceratops
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