Was Triceratops a social animal?

Mar 24, 2009
Uncovered: This juvenile Triceratops is being excavated in Montana. Credit: S. Brusatte

Until now, Triceratops was thought to be unusual among its ceratopsid relatives. While many ceratopsids—a common group of herbivorous dinosaurs that lived toward the end of the Cretaceous—have been found in enormous bonebed deposits of multiple individuals, all known Triceratops (over 50 in total) fossils have been solitary individuals. But a new discovery of a jumble of at least three juveniles the badlands of the north-central United States suggests that the three-horned dinosaurs were not only social animals, but may have exhibited unique gregarious groupings of juveniles.

"This is very thrilling," says Stephen Brusatte, an affiliate of the American Museum of Natural History and a doctoral student at Columbia University. "We can say something about how these lived. Interestingly, what we've found seems to be a larger pattern among many dinosaurs that juveniles lived and traveled together in groups."

In 2005, Brusatte and colleagues found and excavated a site that contained multiple juveniles in 66-million-year-old rocks in southeastern Montana. The geological evidence suggests that at least three juveniles were deposited at the same time by a localized flood, and this suggests that they were probably living together when disaster struck. This find indicates that Triceratops juveniles congregated in small herds, a increasingly identified in other dinosaur groups, such as Psittacosaurus, a small cousin of Triceratops that lived in Asia.

"We don't know why they were grouped together or how much time they spent together," says Joshua Mathews of the Burpee Museum of Natural History and Northern Illinois University, who led the project. "Herding together could have been for protection, and our guess is that this wasn't something they did full time."

The site was discovered in 2005 by Burpee Museum volunteer Helmuth Redschlag. Redschlag, a devoted fan of The Simpsons television program, named the bonebed the "Homer Site."

"It's kind of fitting that these big, bulky, plodding Triceratops are named after Homer Simpson," says Brusatte. "But more than anything, we were able to find something shockingly unexpected, even though there are more Triceratops skeletons than [there are of] nearly any other dinosaur, and southeastern Montana has been combed for fossils for hundreds of years." Excavation at the Homer Site is ongoing, and the Burpee Museum team expects to find additional fossils of Triceratops juveniles.

More information: The research is published in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Source: American Museum of Natural History

Explore further: Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Smallest Triceratops skull described

Mar 06, 2006

A cast of a foot-long skull from the youngest Triceratops dinosaur every discovered is now on display at the University of California-Berkeley.

Ancient wounds reveal Triceratops battles

Jan 28, 2009

How did the dinosaur Triceratops use its three horns? A new study published in the open-access, peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE and led by Andrew Farke, curator at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, locate ...

Dino-mite discovery

Nov 24, 2005

A new species of horned dinosaur with distinctive spikes and a flashy shield around its head has been unveiled in a scholarly journal. Centrosaurus brinkmani was a docile vegetarian about the size of two-tonne tru ...

Luck gave dinosaurs their edge

Sep 11, 2008

By comparing early dinosaurs to their closest competitors, the curuotarsans, Steve Brusatte of the American Museum of Natural History and colleagues have found that dinosaurs had no special ability to dominate ...

Recommended for you

Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

Dec 20, 2014

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist ...

Digging up the 'Spanish Vikings'

Dec 19, 2014

The fearsome reputation of the Vikings has made them the subject of countless exhibitions, books and films - however, surprisingly little is known about their more southerly exploits in Spain.

Short-necked Triassic marine reptile discovered in China

Dec 17, 2014

A new species of short-necked marine reptile from the Triassic period has been discovered in China, according to a study published December 17, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xiao-hong Chen f ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Mercury_01
5 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2009
Or maybe they were like certain types of deer that gather only seasonally.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.