Skip to main content

Study: Triceratops took a million years to develop horn

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
This image represents the latest evolution of the triceratops in the Hell Creek Formation of eastern Montana.
This image represents the latest evolution of the triceratops in the Hell Creek Formation of eastern Montana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Triceratops didn't always look like the way we picture them
  • It took a million years for its horn to evolve
  • The researchers spent 15 years to come up with the finding

(CNN) -- Researchers at the Montana State University have breaking news -- one million years in the making.

Triceratops, the three horned dinosaur, didn't always look like the famous silhouette we know and love. Its signature profile, according to newly published research, took over a million years to develop.

Remains of 3 triceratops found
Triceratops remains unearthed in Wyoming
Scientist: We expect to find more

It took researchers 15 years to come up with this finding.

The researchers returned year after year to one area in Montana known as The Hell Creek Formation.

There, they found enough triceratops specimens to see the development of its facial anatomy.

John Scannella headed up the project and is the lead author of the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The group compared over 50 skulls. It found that "over one to two million years at the end of the Cretaceous Period, Triceratops went from having a small nasal horn and long beak to having a long nasal horn and shorter beak."

Although not ferocious in reputation like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops was a beast of epic proportions. Thirty feet long, weighing up to 16,000 pounds, the creatures also featured a distinctive bony frill at the back of the head, covering the neck.

Previously, the group working at Hell Creek found that as an individual creature aged, the shape of its horns and skull changed.

"The new study finds evidence that not only did Triceratops change shape over the lifetime of an individual, but that the genus transformed over the course of the end of the age of dinosaurs," Scannella said.

Triceratops roamed the Earth near the end of the Cretaceous Period, a half a million years before the dinosaurs went extinct.

The first skeleton, found in 1887, was initially mistaken for a buffalo.

A scientist at Yale gave the creature its name two years later, translating from Greek as "three horned face."

Triceratops trio unearthed in Wyoming

CNN's Dave Alsup and Mesrop Najarian contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Science news
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1934 GMT (0334 HKT)
Nichelle Nichols has spent her whole life going where no one has gone before, and at 81 she's still as sassy and straight-talking as you'd expect from an interstellar explorer.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
May 25, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1532 GMT (2332 HKT)
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
May 2, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT)
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
ADVERTISEMENT