Eoceratops was a Cretaceous Ceratopsid
Eoceratops was an herbivorous dinosaur that lived in the early Cretaceous Period, from 140 to 100 million years ago. Eoceratops was a member of the family Ceratopsidae, which includes other four-legged, horned dinosaurs. The first fossil was unearthed in 1898, but the fossil wasn’t recognized as a unique species until 16 years later.
|3 – 5 short tons (2.72 -4.53 tonnes)
|20 feet (6.1 meters)
|7 feet (2.13 meters)
|Approximately 20-25 mph
The literal translation from the Greek name Eoceratops mean “dawn horned face” or “early horned face”. Thought to be one of the first members of the Ceratopsidae family, Eoceratops was a predecessor to much larger horned dinosaurs such as the Triceratops. Other Ceratopsids that look similar to and are often confused with Eoceratops are Mojoceratops and Chasmosaurus. In fact, some paleontologists claim that Eoceratops may be nothing more than a juvenile Chasmosaurus.
What Did Eoceratops Look Like?
Eoceratops was an average-sized member of the Ceratopsidae family. Like all members of the family, Eoceratops was a quadrupedal herbivore that used a beak with rows of sheering teeth for the chewing of vegetation. The defining characteristics of these creatures are elaborate frills and horns, which vary between species. The variation among frills and horns of Ceratopsids are often used to distinguish between species. Though there has been much debate about the purpose of horns and frills in Ceratopsids, the discussion is still open for debate. One long-held belief states that the horns were used for defense. This is a plausible theory for the horns, but it doesn’t hold up well when explaining the frill’s function. Frills were often composed of skin stretched across structural bones, so there is no reason to believe that they would have shielded the animal’s fragile neck and spine area from predators. Today paleontologists tend to accept the theory that the frills were used as a sexual characteristic for displays during the mating season. Another possibility is that the large frills captured sunlight and were helpful in regards to thermoregulation.
Eoceratops was an Average Size Ceratopsid
Weighing in at about 8,000 pounds and stretching to 20 feet in length, Eoceratops was an average-sized Ceratopsid. Four tons doesn’t sound like a small dinosaur until your take into consideration that the Triceratops, the largest member of the family, weighed in at twice as much or more. Four sturdy legs held up Eoceratops’s bulky body. The legs ended in hoof-like claws that made migration possible. Mounted on the front of this hefty creature was a 3-foot-long skull with three short horns—one on each brow and one on top of the beak.
What did Eoceratops eat?
Fossil remains of Eoceratops show beaks and teeth suited for consumption of vegetation leading paleontologists to believe that the dinosaurs were full-fledged herbivores adapted to eating high-fiber plant material. Their cheeks held rows of serrated teeth that could shred thick vegetation for passage into the digestive track. Their skulls also held replacement teeth to replace the working teeth as they were worn down. The stomachs of Ceratopsids are thought to have contained bacteria that caused fermentation in order to break down and absorb nutrients from the hard-to-digest, high-fiber plants such as leaves, ferns, mosses, and conifers. Since the Eoceratops diet is comprised of low-calorie foods, these dinosaurs were always eating. It’s safe to say that any low-lying vegetation was on the menu.
How did Eoceratops Move and Migrate?
Eoceratops was a quadrupedal dinosaur that lived in herds. Large bone beds have been unearthed that bolster this theory. Fossil sites have shown hundreds or thousands of Eoceratops or related dinosaurs living in the same area at the time of death.
Since Eoceratops was a slow, lumbering creature, living in herds provided safety in numbers—a tactic still used today by grazing mammals. These large dinosaurs had to eat tons of vegetation over the course of a year to survive. Multiply that amount of vegetation by the large number of Eoceratops in the pack and it becomes evident that herds were always on the move in search of foliage to consume. Some paleontologists posit that during part of the year ceratopsids in general lived near the coast, but migrated inland with large herds for the dry season. This vast migration could also have been a result of reproduction habits.
Where did Eoceratops live?
The first Eoceratops fossil was discovered in Alberta, Canada. Subsequent discoveries in North America and a lack of findings on different continents lead paleontologists to believe that Eoceratops roamed North America looking for plentiful food. The fact that these animals lived in herds and had to consume large amounts of vegetation help explain why Eoceratops was always on the move. Research and fossil discoveries of Eoceratops are minimal so future discoveries should shed a light on the full extent of the habitat that this species called home.
The Discovery of Eoceratops
Lawrence M. Lambe, who worked for the Geological Survey of Canada, discovered a portion of a neck frill that he believed was a previously-known species. Thinking that his find was of minimal importance, he put a name on the species and went back to work. Then in 1913, when Charles Sternberg and his sons found complete skulls of the Eoceratops in the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Lambe recognized that what he had unearthed in 1898 was, in fact, a new genus. He coined the new genus Oeceratops, Greek for “dawn horned face”, because it was one of the first Ceratopsids to roam the Earth.
Is Eoceratops a unique species?
Using only fossilized remains to identify and classify thousands of dinosaurs is no easy task. Mistakes are common and dinosaurs are constantly being renamed and declassified in an effort to accurately account for each extinct species.
Almost all of the Eoceratops fossils that have been discovered come from the same region—Alberta, Canada. In the same area, species that look almost identical to Eoceratops have been unearthed. These remains have been dubbed Chasmosaurus and Mojoceratops. Some literature states that Eoceratops and the long-horned Chasmosaurus are examples, or subsets, of the Mojoceratops. Others believe that Eoceratops is simply a juvenile Chasmosaurus.
Male and female Ceratopsids often have different horn-lengths and frill designs. Specimens within the same species and of the same sex can also have varying characteristics. Another problem that makes distinguishing species a painstaking task is the number of species of dinosaurs within the same genus. With all of these issues, it is easy to see why a paleontologist’s job is so difficult. With new techniques such as DNA testing, future research should be able to more accurately identify extinct species and clear up some of the misconceptions in accepted science.
The Importance of Eoceratops
The discovery of Eoceratops and fellow species in Alberta in 1898 fueled a massive dinosaur hunt in Alberta. The discoverer, Lawrence Lambe, published books on the topic which helped bring the search for dinosaur fossils to the public’s eye and the media’s attention.
In addition to the popularization of paleontology, the uncovering of Eoceratops and similar Ceratopsids help explain how evolution brought about giants like the Triceratops. The success of smaller horned herbivores, like the Eoceratops, displays how the species could support itself to the point of evolution into larger dinosaurs. Eoceratops could also play a vital role in explaining genus expansion through diversification as scientists discover how and why species develop.