How did Triceratops grow its horns?

From Bozeman, Mont., at the 61st annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate


Newly discovered fossil skulls of juvenile Triceratops may help reveal how the dinosaurs grew their three trademark horns.

Until recently, scientists had unearthed the fossil skulls only of adult

Triceratops, with the exception of a 28-centimeter-long skull that likely belonged

to a young animal, says Mark B. Goodwin, a paleontologist at the University of

California, Berkeley. That small specimen indicated that the horn growing up from

the end of the animal’s snout started out as a separate bone that later fused to

the skull and continued to grow.

In the past 3 years, Goodwin and his colleagues have excavated the skulls of a few

juvenile Triceratops from the Hell Creek Formation in eastern Montana. The horns

on those specimens provide clues about how the small bony nub found above each eye

on the young animals transformed into a slightly S-shaped horn the length of a

hockey stick in adults.

Even a baby Triceratops had bony outgrowths on each brow. These protrusions

pointed slightly forward, Goodwin notes. In juvenile animals, however, the horns

were thicker, and they curved upward and slightly back. In adults, the brow horns

are thick and curve forward at their base, but they retain an upward curve at

their ends.

Goodwin says that this pattern of development suggests that the brow horns on

Triceratops grew from their bases, not outward from their tips. Future microscopic

analyses of various parts of the horn should reveal which sections were still

growing in the juvenile animals.

About one-third of the base of each adult brow horn was hollow. That would have

rendered the horns susceptible to damage if the animals had used them for defense

against predators or for dueling with rival Triceratops. Therefore, Goodwin

suggests that the species’ familiar three-horned countenance may have served other

purposes, including species recognition among youngsters and sexual display among


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