Fun Facts About Triceratops!

Just like 2 stags jousting with their antlers, two elephant-sized dinosaurs lock their horns and start wrestling. The two male Triceratops fight to find out who is the strongest, both hoping to impress the nearby female. Their huge skulls crash into each other, their 1 meter long horns clashing, until one Triceratops pierces the frill of his rival. The injured Triceratops roars in pain and jumps back defeated, as the victorious Triceratops stands tall. 

The Triceratops was a large four-legged dinosaur that lived on Earth millions of years ago. It had a large body and short legs, but the most striking part of its appearance was its massive head, with three horns sticking out, and a bony frill around its neck. The Triceratops was a herbivore, which means it ate plants for food. It had a strong beak and powerful jaws that it used to bite and chew tough plant material. Although the Triceratops was not as fast as some other dinosaurs, it was a formidable animal that could defend itself from predators with its horns.

Triceratops Videos For Kids

What Does 'Triceratops' Mean?

The name ‘Triceratops’ is Greek for ‘Three Horned Face’, and is constructed from ‘tri’ meaning three, ‘kéras’ meaning horn, and ‘ops’ meaning face. This makes a lot of sense as the Triceratops has three big horns on its face, two large horns over its eyes on either side of its forehead, and a smaller horn at the end of its nose.

When Was The Triceratops Discovered?

When the first fossilized Triceratop bones were discovered in Denver in 1887 scientists thought it must have been an extinct species of Bison. It was only in 1888 when Othneil Charles Marsh realized they were a horned dinosaur, which he named the Triceratops.

When Did The Triceratops Live?

The Triceratops lived between 68 to 66 million years ago in a time called the late Cretaceous Period, at around the same time as the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Both of these dinosaurs were made extinct when a big asteroid struck earth.

Where Did The Triceratops Live?

Triceratops fossils have been found in North America, in what would have been warm swamps and grasslands. At the time when the Triceratops lived, the North America continent had already split away from Europe and no Triceratops have been discovered in Europe or Asia.

Did Triceratops Live Alone Or In Groups?

Lots of horned animals move in herds to reduce their chance of being caught alone by a predator, and when animals live in herds scientists tend to find lots of different skeletons at the same location. Triceratops are usually found alone, which scientists think means they mostly lived alone and not in herds. In fact, there is only one example of 3 Triceratops fossils being found together, and they were very young Triceratops, not adults.

What Did The Triceratops Look Like?

The Triceratops looks like a rhinoceros and a unicorn had a baby, an enormous 3 horned baby! 

The Triceratops was about the size of an elephant. It had 4 strong legs to support its huge body and, like other horned dinosaurs, it had a relatively short tail. Interestingly the front legs of the Triceratops were shorter than the back legs, and scientists are still trying to understand all the reasons why.

The Triceratops was most famous for its massive head with enormous horns above its eyes, a smaller horn on its snout and a parrot-like beak. It had a giant bony shield called a frill around its head. The frill was almost 1 meter (3 feet) across and protected the Triceratops’s neck, with 19 - 26 small spikes called epoccipitals sticking out around the edge.

What Were The Horns & Frill Used For?

The Triceratops horns and frill changed as it got older. The 2 massive horns above its eyes started out as little stubs that curved backwards when it was younger, but as the Triceratops grew the horns straightened out and then became long and twisty until they reached a length of around 1 meter (3 feet) in adulthood. The horn on the Triceratops nose was made from keratin, which is the same material that rhino horns are made of and human fingernails too! 

Scientists think that the horns and frill served many purposes, just like an Antelope mainly using its large horns to fight for territory and mates, but also using them to defend itself from lions. Similar to the same way goats, deer and stags fight with their antlers, the Triceratops probably used their horns and frill most frequently to fight other Triceratops to show who was stronger, to win territory and to impress females. One famous Triceratops called ‘Big John’ was found with a hole in its frill that was the perfect size for the horn of another Triceratops, supporting the idea that Triceratops often fought in mating duels and displays of strength. 

Interestingly both males and females had horns, so did they both fight to show who was the strongest?  Were they both trying to impress each other? This is different from other animals like a moose where only the males grow large antlers to compete for mates.

Of course, the horns were also used to defend the Triceratops against the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and several fossilized skeletons have been discovered with partially healed Tyrannosaurus tooth marks in the frill and horns. In one fossil the horn had been bitten off completely. Poor Triceratops!

The bony frill around its head, it was large but not particularly thick or strong which means scientists think it would have defended the Triceratops neck, its primarily purpose was for display. In fact, other horned dinosaurs had different arrangements of horns and frills, so they could have played an important role showing which species was which. 

Scientists think that most of the Triceratops head was covered in keratin, which is the very colorful material used in the beaks of many living birds, so the heads of the Triceratops could have been very colorful too!

What Did The Triceratops Eat?

Even though it looked really frightening, the Triceratops was actually a herbivore, which means it ate plants for food. It had a parrot-like beak called a rostral, which it could use to grab branches and pluck leaves from plants and shrubs, like ferns, cycads and palms. With its strong jaws and rows of saw-like teeth inside, the Triceratops could chomp on tough plants that other dinosaurs couldn’t eat. As its front legs were shorter than its back legs it would have been easy for it to eat vegetation close to the ground, and it could have also pulled down branches with its horns and beak or just pushed shrubs over because it was so strong.

How Many Teeth Did Triceratops Have?

The Triceratops had up to 800 teeth and was constantly growing new teeth to replace the old ones which were ground down chewing tough plants. The teeth were in scissor-like rows of 36-40 teeth called batteries used for chewing plants, with 3-5 batteries on each side of the mouth. 

How Big Was The Triceratops?

A baby Triceratops was around the size of a bulldog, but then they grew to the size of a large African Bush Elephant. The Triceratops grew up to 9 meters (30 feet) in length, which is a little bit shorter than a bus and the same size as 2 cars parked bumper to bumper. The Triceratops had a really big head too, up to 3 meters (10 feet) long, which is one of the largest skulls of any land animal and around ⅓ the length of the whole body.

How big was a Triceratops? A Triceratops was as long as 2 cars parked bumper to bumper.

How Tall Was The Triceratops?

The top of a Triceratops back was around 3 meters (10 feet) high off the ground, which is just a little bit shorter than the top of a professional basketball hoop!

How tall was a Triceratops? A Triceratops was almost as tall as a basketball hoop!

How Much Did Triceratops Weigh?

Most scientists estimate that the Triceratops weighed between 5,000 - 8,000 kg (10,000 - 16,000 pounds) which is huge. Some scientists say if you take the known specimens and they grow to full adulthood the weight could be as much as 12,000 kg (24,000 lbs). Much of the weight was its gigantic bony head! The biggest African Bush Elephants are around 7,000 kg (14,000 pounds) so a big 8,000 kg (16,000 pounds) Triceratops would weigh more than an African Bush Elephant, in fact a Triceratops would weight the same as around 80 American men!

How much did a Triceratops weigh? A Triceratops was heavier than an Elephant!
How much did a Triceratops weigh? A Triceratops weighed about the same as 80 men!

Triceratops vs. Tyrannosaurus Rex

The Triceratops and the T-Rex were both enormous dinosaurs, but whilst the T-Rex was longer and taller, the Triceratops were heavier. Adult T-Rexes could measure 12 meters (40 feet) from head to tail, whereas the Triceratops only reached 9 meters (30 feet), so the T-Rex was longer. And the T-Rex stood 3.6 meters (12 feet) tall, when measured from the floor to the top of their hips, whereas the biggest Triceratops were lucky to reach 3 meters (10 feet) from the floor to the top of their backs, so the T-Rex was taller. But in terms of weight the biggest grown up T-Rexes could weigh between 15,500 pounds (7,000 kilograms) whereas Triceratops could weigh 16,000 pounds (8,000 kilograms), so the Triceratops with its big bony head were a little bit heavier.

How big was a Triceratops? A Triceratops was smaller than a T-Rex!
How much did a Triceratops weigh? A Triceratops was heavier than a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

How Many Triceratops Types Are There?

In the past scientists thought there were lots of different kinds of Triceratops, because they saw skeletons with different size and shaped horns, and distinctive holes in their frills. Now most scientists agree that these were actually the effects of age and there were only 2 species. 

The earlier species was the Triceratops Horridus, which over 1-2 million years evolved into the Triceratops Prorsus. Both species of Triceratops were massive dinosaurs, bigger than an elephant, but the Triceratops Horridus had a shorter horn on its nose, a longer snout and forward facing top horns. The Triceratops Prorsus had a longer horn on its nose, a shorter snout and vertical top horns.

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