The natural world is full of oddities. From the largest creatures to the smallest microbes, the Earth is full of extraordinary animals, people and things. This principle was no different during the time of the dinosaurs, when the world was populated with weird and wonderful creatures. In a series of articles over the next month, I will share my top picks for the most peculiar dinosaurs known to science and talk about what exactly made them so odd….
Triceratops is the most recognizable member of the ceratopsians, known by most as the horned dinosaurs. While these dinosaurs had humble beginnings as small herbivores in the Jurassic period, they blossomed into dozens of unorthodox forms during the late Cretaceous. In this article, I will talk briefly about my choices for the six most distinct ceratopsian species.
Here is my countdown…
The skull of Nasutoceratops has an almost eerie resemblance to that of a bull. The two horns both bend in a similar fashion to that of a bull, and they would have been conjoined at a single point in the skull as well. The frill was almost completely circular, with small blunt horns all the way throughout.
Diabloceratops probably had the greatest name of any ceratopsian. The name Diabloceratops, which is derived from the Spanish word for devil, is named such due to the set of large horns on top of the frill. These horns were larger than their eye horns and bent outwards, with the purpose once again being to intimidate potential predators.
The skull of Wendiceratops is actually a combination of other species. While the eye horns of Wendiceratops are similar in structure to those of Triceratops, the nasal horn is blunt at the end, a unique trait of this dinosaur. The frill is similar to that of Kosmoceratops, with the horns folding over the frill. The odd combination of features found on other ceratopsians and its own unique features are what put Wendiceratops on my list.
Like the next entry on our list, the skull of Kosmoceratops wouldn’t have posed much of a threat to predators. The two horns above the eyes both bent to the side and the nasal horn is blunt, but once again, the frill is where the intrigue lies. On top of the frill are ten horns, but each are small and actually bend downwards onto the rest of the frill. Here, the primary function of such an odd frill was likely as a mating device, attracting females with its uncanny appearance.
While the argument could be made for most ceratopsians using their horns for protection, this cannot be applied to the horns of Regaliceratops. The frill of the skull possessed plates all the way around, which is unique to Regaliceratops amongst ceratopsian species. The nasal horn and horns above the eyes were relatively small and would not have been a particularly effective defense against some predators. Due to the extravagant frill and lack of defense, the prevailing theory about Regaliceratops is that it used its head as a display to attract potential mates, rather than act as an actual defense mechanism.
While most ceratopsian frills (the frill is the back part of the skull that covers the neck) possess horns on them, Styracosaurus takes this to the extreme. At the end of the frill are six massive horns, which with the two central horns being as large as Styracosaurus’ nose horn. While these horns were sharp, it is unlikely that these frill horns were used for protection. They would have certainly made Styracosaurus look more intimidating to predators, a valuable resource when considering Styracosaurus had to deal with two separate species of Tyrannosaurids in Cretaceous Alberta.
It was hard to limit my top choices down to only six species, as each of the few dozen ceratopsian species are all unique – and odd — in their own right. While the ceratopsians were the only herbivorous dinosaurs known to have possessed horns on their skulls, a few theropod dinosaurs managed to copy this trait. In my next article I will talk about one of these horned carnivores, the ‘meat eating bull’ from South America.