Triceratops, one of the most famous dinosaurs, literally means “three horned face.” Tri, meaning “three,” cerat, meaning “horned,” and “ops,” meaning face. It is an ornithscian dinosaur that belongs to the family, Ceratopsidae, which contains horned dinosaurs. It lived during the Cretaceous period and┬áhas several defining and interesting characteristics, including its horns. In addition to this, the triceratops possessed a bony projection from its skull that is called the “frill.” To get a better idea of how big a triceratops was, here’s a picture to scale, showing how large the triceratops was.


By Marmelad [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Teeth and Diet

A new study revealed that the triceratops had extremely complex teeth, comprising of five layers of tissue. In contrast, bison teeth, some of the most complex teeth, has four layers of tissue. Crocodiles and reptiles only have two layers; their teeth were made to just seize food and not chew. The teeth of the triceratops were far more intricate than the teeth of many reptiles and mammals today. Each layer of tissue had its own purpose and made the triceratops a lean, mean machine when it came to eating up plants.

As an herbivore, the triceratops only ate plants and probably feasted upon low, but abrasive vegetation. Other dinosaurs didn’t have the teeth that were efficient enough to withstand the wear and tear of eating tough vegetation. Plus, their chewing wasn’t like a grinding one, but rather a slicing action. We chew with the crowns of our teeth converging, but the upper and lower jaws go right by each other when it chews and occlude vertically. Its upper jaw and lower jaw acted like two blades that each chopped down the plant that it was eating vertically. The strong beak of the triceratops paired with its teeth allowed for it to engage in herbivorous activity.

The Horns

The triceratops has been portrayed continuously in pop culture as being preyed on by the ferocious T-Rex, but was the triceratops a passive herbivore that just ate plants without fighting its predators off with the horns it had? There is evidence that the Tyrannosaurus Rex did indeed prey on the triceratops from evidence of bite marks on the bones of the triceratops. The horns of the triceratops are thought to have served multiple purposes. The horns and frill served for mating purposes, but one study points to the bone lesions of some triceratops that suggests that the triceratops may have engaged in combat with its horns. The triceratops may have engaged in acts of assertion of its dominance or territorial defense. Its strong neck and shoulder muscles and protection of the head with its bony frill and horns along with the evidence of wounds in the skeletons of the triceratops lead us to believe that it was an active participant in fighting those around it. I suppose thedn the next question is: would it be able to defend itself from a T-Rex?


By Nobu Tamura ( – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

Works Cited
Erickson, Gregory M., and Kenneth H. Olson. “Bite Marks Attributable to Tyrannosaurus Rex : Preliminary Description and Implications.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16.1 (1996): 175-78. Web.
Farke, Andrew A., Ewan D. S. Wolff, and Darren H. Tanke. “Evidence of Combat in Triceratops.” PLoS ONE 4.1 (2009): n. pag. Web.
Farlow, James O., and Peter Dodson. “The Behavioral Significance of Frill and Horn Morphology in Ceratopsian Dinosaurs.” Evolution 29.2 (1975): 353. Web.
Lull, Richard Swann, and Clara Mae. Le Vene. “A Revision of the Ceratopsia or Horned Dinosaurs.” (1933): n. pag. Web.