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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Nov 7;273(1602):2757-61.

Major cranial changes during Triceratops ontogeny.

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Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717-0040, USA.


This is the first cranial ontogenetic assessment of Triceratops, the well-known Late Cretaceous dinosaur distinguished by three horns and a massive parietal-squamosal frill. Our analysis is based on a growth series of 10 skulls, ranging from a 38 cm long baby skull to about 2 m long adult skulls. Four growth stages correspond to a suite of ontogenetic characters expressed in the postorbital horns, frill, nasal, epinasal horn and epoccipitals. Postorbital horns are straight stubs in early ontogeny, curve posteriorly in juveniles, straighten in subadults and recurve anteriorly in adults. The posterior margin of the baby frill is deeply scalloped. In early juveniles, the frill margin becomes ornamented by 17-19 delta-shaped epoccipitals. Epoccipitals are dorsoventrally compressed in subadults, strongly compressed and elongated in adults and ultimately merge onto the posterior frill margin in older adults. Ontogenetic trends within and between growth stages include: posterior frill margin transitions from scalloped to wavy and smooth; progressive exclusion of the supraoccipital from the foramen magnum; internal hollowing at the base of the postorbital horns; closure of the midline nasal suture; fusion of the epinasal onto the nasals; and epinasal expansion into a morphologically variable nasal horn. We hypothesize that the changes in horn orientation and epoccipital shape function to allow visual identity of juveniles, and signal their attainment of sexual maturity.

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