Baby triceratops discovered

Bone collar and horn already created

Skull of the Baby Triceratops Mark Goodwin, UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology
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With his tennisball-sized eyes, his short muzzle and the cuddly croissants, it was probably really cute - the Triceratops boy. At least in the eyes of his mother, a three-horned ten-ton dinosaur. Scientists have now examined the youngest skull of a Triceratops ever found and thus for the first time gained insight into the "nursery" of the Dinosaurs.

Triceratops horridus lived about 144 to 65 million years ago in what is now North America. Together with their Asian relatives, they possessed the largest skulls of all land-living animals of their time. In adult animals alone the skull was more than 1.80 meters long, the three 90 centimeters long horns and a good two meters wide bone collar enlarged the mighty head of the almost eight -meter-long giant. In contrast, took the only just under 90 centimeters large Triceratops babies almost tiny.

Skull fragments with characteristic bone collar

The skull of the Triceratops boy was found in 1997 in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, along with a few vertebrae and bony tendons from amateur hooligan Harley Garbani. Garbani was initially of the opinion that he had discovered skull fragments of a round-headed pachycephalosaurs and sent photos and later the bones themselves to Mark Goodwin, a paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley.

But Goodwin realized immediately that this find was a sensation: The bones adjacent to the skull were clearly part of the characteristic bone collar of a Triceratops - but just a very young. He reconstructed the skull and mandible of the dinosaur from the 67-68 million-year-old fragments - only the nose and snout are missing. The results of his study are published in the journal Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Horns not only for rivalry

Skull of Young and Adult Animals © Steve McConnell / UC Berkeley NewsCenter

The Little Skull, the first of its kind, tells researchers a great deal about the growth of dinosaurs, their characteristics and behaviors, including what their head attachments actually are. "The Baby Triceratops confirms our argument that the horns and collars of the skulls are likely to have a different function than competition among rivals or showmanship in mate choice, as many previously suspected, " explains Goodwin. display

For even the "yearling" as Goodwin calls the skull, these head hangings were already at an age when rival fights and sexual behaviors still do not matter play. "We postulate that the horns and collars were just as important for the species recognition and visual communication, " said the researcher.

Colorful cornea and flexible cranium

However, the skull also provided further insights: for example, it shows pits in its surface where blood vessels must have run along. From them, the researchers conclude that the head surface of the Baby Dino could be covered by a hard horny layer, and that this was probably even colored in bright colors. Similar to today the feathers of the descendants of the dinosaurs, the birds.

The cranium of the baby Triceratops also differed significantly from that of an adult. Hidden beneath the bones of the skull, the baby's only hazelnut-sized brain is surrounded by unbroken bones. They allow further brain growth. In adults, the potato-sized brain sits in a solid, no longer changeable brain shell. "The baby skull shows us how the bones of the skull grew together, because we can still clearly see the seams and seam surfaces here, which have completely disappeared in adults, " explains Goodwin.

Because of the good state of preservation of the bones and the lack of traces of chewing, the scientists assume that the baby was either covered by soil or Ger ll after his death before scavengers could gnaw on him or eroded them through water. "It's an incredible specimen, in wonderful condition, " swears the paloontologist. The remains of the reconstructed skull are now exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History and the Rocky Mountain Museum in Montana, the site of the discovery of the Baby Triceratops. Goodwin is currently conducting further excavations in the Lower and Upper Hell Creek Formation in Montana.

(UC Berkeley, 08.03.2006 - NPO)