Ceratopsian Fossils: Horned Dinosaurs | Darwin and Wallace: A Nature & Fossil Store

Ceratopsian Fossils: Horned Dinosaurs


        The ceratopsians (meaning "Horned Faces") are a clade of herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs that are known for ornamented heads that are often outfitted with horns, as well as a frill/shield toward the back of the skull. The oldest ceratopsian fossils are represented by the small Yinlong, and date to approximately 161-156 million years ago during the Jurassic period. Early ceratopsians like Yinlong were very small compared to their later descendants, and also were partially bipedal and lacked the extravagant skull ornamentation. As millions of years passed, ceratopsians would become larger and quadrapedal, resulting in such derived, multi-horned forms like Styracosaurus and Kosmoceratops. The exact functions of the horns and frills are not entirely certain, though they more than likely served the combined purposes of display between males and females, distinction between individuals within a group, and defense against predators. The first ceratopsian fossils were discovered in Wyoming in 1872, and named "Agathaumas" (meaning "Great Wonder") by paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, though its remains more than likely represent the then yet-to-be-discovered and named Triceratops. In 1890, paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh would create the term "Ceratopsia" to group Agathaumas with other similar horned dinosaurs. Like all non-avian dinosaurs, the last ceratopsians would become extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago.



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