Ceratopsians

By | September 9, 2016

The plant-eating ceratopsians varied from sheep-sized animals to sturdy giants that were bigger than elephants. They grazed in the forests and plains of North America and Asia, perhaps in herds. They had huge, parrotlike beaks that they used to grasp and rip up plants. With their towering horns and huge neck frills, they must have been a spectacular sight.

FAMILY FACT FILE

Key features
■ Massive hooked beaks for grasping plants
■ Hundreds of chisel-edged teeth for slicing through leaves like scissors
■ Large horns and neck frills, mainly for display
■ Short legs
■ Hooflike bones on fingers and toes

When

These dinosaurs thrived in the Cretaceous Period, around 80 million years ago. The last of the ceratopsians died out in the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago.

Einiosaurus (ie-nee-o-SAWR-uss)

einiosaurus-1


When: 74–65 million years ago (Late Cretaceous)

Fossil location: USA

Habitat: Woodland

Length: 20 ft (6 m)

Diet: Plants

In 1985, scientists found fossils of 15 Einiosaurus individuals in the same site in the USA—perhaps they were members of a herd that died together in a flood or landslide. Einiosaurus had an impressive frill with a wavy margin and two long horns that pointed upward. The horns were probably used for both display and fighting.

Chasmosaurus (KAS-mo-SAWR-uss)

chasmosaurus


When: 74–65 million years ago (Late Cretaceous)

Fossil location: N. America

Habitat: Woodland

Length: 16 ft (5 m)

Diet: Palms and cycads

Chasmosaurus’s neck frill has huge holes that would have been covered by skin. The frill could have been tilted upright to attract attention or startle enemies and may have been brightly colored.

Styracosaurus (sty-RACK-oh-SORE-uss)

styracosaurus


When: 74–65 million years ago (Late Cretaceous)

Fossil location: N. America

Habitat: Open woodland

Length: 17 ft (5.2 m)

Diet: Ferns and cycads

Styracosaurus’s magnificent frill sported six spikes up to 2 ft (60 cm) long that may have served as decoration to attract mates. Styracosaurus had a large, deep snout with huge nostrils, and a short, blunt horn. Its sharp teeth could cut through thick vegetation and were constantly replaced.

Pentaceratops (PEN-ta-SERRA-tops)

pentaceratops


When: 74–65 million years ago (Late Cretaceous)

Fossil location: USA

Habitat: Wooded plains

Length: 16–26 ft (5–8 m)

Diet: Plants

A huge head was the most remarkable feature of this dinosaur. One fossil skull, built from broken fragments, is more than 10 ft (3 m) long, making it the longest skull of any land animal in history. Pentaceratops means “five-horned face”—the dinosaur had one horn on the snout, two curved horns on the brow, and a small horn on each cheek.

Protoceratops (PRO-toe-SERRA-tops)

protoceratops


When: 74–65 million years ago (Late Cretaceous)

Fossil location: Mongolia

Habitat: Desert

Length: 6 ft (1.8 m)

Diet: Desert plants

Many well-preserved fossils of this small ceratopsian have been found in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Protoceratops had a wide neck frill at the back of its skull that expanded with age and was larger in males. It also had broad, spadelike claws, perhaps for digging burrows.

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