The Evolutionary Transformations of the Triceratops: Why This Dinosaur Species Might Never have Existed

New evidence shows that the triceratops (like this fossil) may have simply been a shape-shifting juvenile of another dinosaur species.

If you asked me a few decades ago what my favorite dinosaur was, you would have heard me answer “triceratops”. And my five year old self wasn’t alone in picking this rather cute three-horned dinosaur as a favorite. Known for being a gentle herbivore, the triceratops has always been portrayed as the “good guy” in the dinosaur movies that have been made over the years. Because of this, it captured the hearts of many children; but today there’s bad news (sort of) because scientists now believe that there was no such thing as a triceratops. How’s that for bursting your bubble?

It’s not that a dinosaur resembling the triceratops never existed; it did and we’ve all seen the skeletons in museums around the world. The issue as it pertains to the existence of this dinosaur species is based upon the scientific discovery that dinosaurs evolve with age and shift shapes as they grown. It was once thought that the triceratops was an independent yet similar species to the taurosaurus, another three-horned dinosaur. Now, it’s believed that the triceratops was just a juvenile form of the same species.

This new evidence comes from examining fossils – it’s believed that the triceratops ones discovered are from juvenile dinosaurs while the ones collected and studied from the torosaurus are strictly adults. The younger skulls appear to be made up of softer tissues which would allow for the shape shifting to occur that could account for the different looks between the two dinosaur species.

The good knews for the triceratops is that since it’s the better known species, it’s likely that it will not be renamed to become the taurosaurus; rather the name triceratops will also be applied to the adult form that once held a different name.

Dinosaurs have been deceiving scientists for centuries, or so we’re learning as new discoveries show that other species have similar shape-shifting abilities to this favorite three-horned dinosaur!

Photo Credit: Erinblatzer via flickr

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