What did they look like?
The body of the Triceratops was big and round, planted on top of short sturdy legs. It was 8 meters long, about 3 meters tall and weighed somewhere between 6 and 12 tons (the size of an elephant).
Triceratops means "Three Horned Face" in Greek. It is called that because it has three horns – two above its eyes and one on its nose. Triceratops horns could be up to 115 cm (45 inches) long. It had a big frill that extended up above the head.
The horns were used for defense, against such enemies as the Tyrannosaurus. When threatened, the Triceratops would stand and fight. Its sharp horns would act as spears and cause a lot of damage. It also had a powerful bite.
Scientists do not all agree on what its head frill was used for. Some say it could have been a defense – like a shield, to protect its body. Some say it was used to give a warning to members of the herd by changing colour. Many now believe the horns and frill were used for social behavior and communication between different Triceratops individuals. For example, two bull Triceratops used the horns and frill in fights over territory or mates, the same way bovids and antelopes do today.
What did they eat?
The Triceratops was a herbivore — a plant-eater — that fed close to the ground. We know this because it had flat teeth that are good for chopping up vegetation, and its massive head would have been difficult to lift high in the air. Unlike any animal today, the Triceratops had a beak in front of its mouth and teeth in the back. The beak would have a hard covering like a parrot beak.
A triceratops' teeth would have been able to crush not only leaves but even very tough branches and roots. Some scientists think Triceratops ate cycads, which are a type of plant that was common in the Cretaceous. These plants look like a small palm tree with a crown of sharp, spiky leaves. A Triceratops could have used its strong beak to strip off the leaves before eating the trunk. Other scientists argue that these plants are very poisonous so it is unlikely that any dinosaur ate them, even though today the sloth and other animals like the parrot (a descendant of the dinosaurs) can eat poisonous leaves or fruit.
Triceratops, like any animal that eats tough foods, had to be big: they needed to process the food very slowly because it took a long time to digest, requiring a long digestive tract. This is evident in how, for instance, an elephant can digest a tree branch, or a cow can digest hay, but a human cannot.
When did they live?
Triceratops lived in the late Cretaceous period, around 66 to 68 million years ago. The climate was warm and dry and there were numerous volcanoes.
Where did they live?
Triceratops lived in the North American continent. Remains have been found in the United States (USA) states of Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming, and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. There is evidence that they were a herding animal. They lived in groups like buffalo or bison.
How were they discovered?
The first Triceratops was discovered in 1887, in Colorado, USA. Since then many of their fossils have been found with Tyrannosaurus tooth marks!
What do we need to learn?
- What their head frill was used for. - Some people believed that the Triceratops babies were hunted by smaller meat eaters and the adult used their frills to protect their young.
- If they were really hunted by T.Rex.