Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A New Look for Triceratops

Alright. I know I have not posted in, like, 3 weeks, but I have been...busy....and lazy. I mean, I had this blog done a week ago but didn't get around to inking the stupid cartoon until today. XD Not the best cartoon either, BTW. I spent about 10 minutes drawing it and 5 inking it. Totally wasn't in the mood to actually try. Anywho, let's get on with it.
Today we are going to take a break from the lemurs (we'll come back to them....later) to check out the new look of one of the most famous dinosaurs: Triceratops.

Traditionally, Triceratops is depicted as a dinosaurian cow, living in massive herds mowing up plant matter with their beak. Now, I'm going to throw a curve-ball at you and say that Triceratops was actually a prickly, anti-social beast that would eat just about anything. Let's look at the evidence.

First off, why prickly? A well known ancestral species of Ceratopsian (the group that includes Triceratops) called Psittacosaurus (here) was recently discovered to have a rather spiny tail. This means that the ancestors of Triceratops likely had spines on their tail which means it may have also had them. Solidifying the possibility of Trikes having spines was the discovery of Tianyulong (here), an even fuzzier dinosaur. Tianyulong was incredibly important because it lived even earlier than Pisttacosaurus (although it likely wasn't ancestral to Trikes, it is a close relative of the ancestors). This means that spines/fuzz are a very early feature among bird-hipped dinosaurs (a large order of dinosaurs that includes Ceratopsians, duck-bills and Stegosaurus). Thus, Triceratops may have had prickles. Plus it likely had knobbly skin like a crocodile based on skin impressions of close relatives like Chasmosaurus. Now, I am ready to here people say "BUT SCOTTER, IT LOOKS STOOPID NOW!" Well, get over it. People said that about feathered raptors but it doesn't make it any less accurate.

Alright. Now we get on to the biggest change in Triceratops.....wait for it.....It may have actually eaten meat! This is based greatly on the fact that their jaws are built like a carnivore. They have a bite designed for "shearing", which is a feature typically seen in meat-eaters. However, Trikes and their kin likely were not strict carnivores like our old friend T. rex. The belly of Triceratops was incredibly large and likely was designed for breaking down plant matter. Thus, Trikes mostly ate plants, but would have eaten meat on occasion. Basically, think of them as a giant wild boars. ;) I have heard of some evidence of a Ceratopsian feeding on a carcass, but I have yet to verify it yet, so I do not know for sure.

Next on the agenda, Triceratops social structure. Now, numerous relatives of Triceratops are known from bone beds that show they lived in herds (Psittacosaurus, Styracosaurus, Centrosaurus, Pachyrhinosaurus) however, none of its very close relatives (Torosaurus, Chasmosaurus, Eotriceratops) have shown evidence of living in large herds. Now most families of animals show great variation in their social structures, even among animals in the same genus. My guess, is that Triceratops and its kin were far less social than we originally thought, mostly because they only had one real predator: Tyrannosaurus rex. No other carnivore in their environment would dare attack an adult Trike. Why do animals live in herds? For protection. Well, an adult Triceratops would not need much protection. This is mostly my theory, but I am sure others would be inclined to agree.

Anywho, that is all for Triceratops. XD The next blog will be on the giant extinct insects of Scotland. Why? Because I am off to Scotland in 10 days and I feel like celebrating!

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