Styracosaurus Was a Cretaceous Period Ceratopsian
Syracosaurus, a member of the Centrosaurinae family, lived in the woodlands of North America in the late Cretaceous Period about 75 million years ago. This herbivore was amongst one of the last major dinosaurs to evolve before the end of the dinosaurs in the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Named Styracosaurus (pronounced STY-rack-oh-SORE-us) in 1913 by Lawrence Lambe who found the first skull of this dinosaur, the name is derived from the Greek language and can be translated to mean “spiked lizard”.
|Prehistoric Era||Late Cretaceous|
|Weight||3 Short Tons (2.7 Tonnes)|
|Length||18 feet (5.5 meters)|
|Height||6 feet (1.8 meters)|
|Maximum Speed||Approximately 20 MPH|
|Territory||Canada and North America|
Physical Attributes of Styracosaurus
Styracosaurus was a bulky and ferocious looking dinosaur measuring up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in length, 1.8 meters (6 feet) in height and weighing almost 3 tons. With a broad flat face and distinctive facial adornments made up of a neck frill and horns it is this dinosaur that is most recognizable today having featured heavily in books and films alongside the Triceratops.
Four to six long horns protruded around this dinosaurs large neck frill starting with the upper pair which pointed upwards with lower ones gently curving out to the sides before reaching the smaller spikes pointing directly out to the sides. Styracosaurus also had a smaller horn on each cheek, close to the eye, as well as a prominent long and sharp nasal horn which is thought to have measured up to 2ft (60cm) long and 6inches (15cm) wide. Sub-adults would have had brow horns which were pyramid-shaped but by mature adulthood these would be replaced by pits.
Individualsof this species could vary in their cranial horn arrangement though each would have the large protruding snout horn and at least four long spikes protruding from the upper part of the neck (parietosquamosal) frill. Some would have small hook-like projections and knobs at the rear margin of the frill, others less prominent tabs.
This dinosaur can be compared in characteristics with the modern day rhinoceros having a short tail and big powerful shoulders. It stood on four short stubby legs with a hoof-like toe sheathed in horn on each foot with its hind legs longer than the front legs making its hips higher than the shoulders.
It’s unknown whether Styracosaurus supported its body weight by keeping its legs directly below its body or if the forelegs were spread out to the sides slightly. Though it is thought, from evidence of tracks, that the Styracosaurus was a fairly fast dinosaur being able to move up to speeds of 32kph (20mph). What it had in speed it lacked in the brain department though, the Styracosaurus only considered to be of intermediate intelligence.
Why Did Styracosaurus have a Frill and Horns?
The exact purpose and function of the Styracosaurus’s horns and frill has been debated over by palaeontologists ever since the first horned dinosaurs were discovered and there are several possible theories to date…
Styracosaurus Frills and Horns As Weapons
Most people presume that the Styracosaurus used its horns as weapons and as a self defense mechanism to protect itself in combat from competition within the same species as well as against larger competition such as the Triceratops. Many palaeontologists think that this is actually the least feasible reason for the large horns however, since it’s only the head and neck which is protected, leaving the rest of the body vulnerable and open to attack. If this self-defense theory is correct though it is presumed that the Styracosaurus would have attacked its rival in the side, piercing it with its nose-horn by charging at it like a modern-day rhinoceros.
Styracosaurus Frills and Horns As Muscle Anchor Points
Another theory first pointed out in the early 20th century, and again backed up in 1996, was that the neck frill acted as anchor points for the dinosaurs jaw muscles giving the dinosaur its tremendous bite force in its beak, however clear muscle attachment points have not been observed in remains so this is not a widely accepted theory.
Styracosaurus Frills and Horns As Intra-species Visual Identification Points And Sexual Display Method
The most likely function believed by palaeontologists for the frill and horns is that it was used as a signaling device and a visual aid to communicate with other Styracosaurus whether used in mating rituals and courtship or to display rivalry and dominance.
The large holes in the frill, known as fenestra, would have supported skin and tissue growth so it’s plausible that this flushed blood into the frill to produce vivid color displays that signaled the male dinosaurs virility.
Styracosaurus Frills As A Thermoregulation Method
Finally the enormous frill could have also been used to help regulate its body temperature by increasing the body area allowing for rapid warming when faced towards the morning sun and rapid cooling during the heat of the day in the same way that the modern African elephant uses its ears in thermo-regulation.
Styracosaurus – Safety in Numbers?
As with other ceratopsia (horned dinosaurs) the Styracosaurus is thought to have been a herd animal, living and traveling together in groups. This idea is supported by the discovery of bone beds which housed large deposits of bones of the same species in a specific area. Some palaeontologists say that the fossil deposits in these bone beds only suggest that a large number of individuals came together at one time, perhaps as they tried to cross a swollen river, in which many individuals drowned. Meaning they were all found together or that the dinosaurs discovered in the bone beds were solitary individuals who met at a watering hole in the dry season and died together when the water dried up and not that they traveled in groups.
However traveling together would have been beneficial for the Styracosaurus and a worthwhile defense strategy against predators such as the Daspletosaurus. Alone the Styracosaurus would have had trouble defending itself against the large Daspletosaurus dinosaur that was roaming the area at the same time but in a small group the Styracosaurus would have been able to cover each other forming a cluster which would create a difficult target to attack.
What Did Styracosaurus Eat and How?
Though this dinosaur was a ferocious looking animal this was not a carnivorous meat-eater instead it was a peaceful herbivore eating a diet of low growing foliage such as cycads, palms, possibly ferns as well as other prehistoric foliage. Some palaeontologists think that this dinosaur was strong enough to knock down angiosperm trees enabling it to reach the softer vegetation found in the the tree canopy though it’s not a view shared by all.
Styracosaurus had a tough beak at the front of its mouth with shearing cheek-teeth towards the back arranged in continuous groups called batteries in which older top teeth would continually be replaced by the teeth below. These teeth did not work in a grinding motion but instead sliced, shearing up the plant matter into smaller pieces to digest. It’s not known for sure what the beak was used for, with palaeontologists thinking it was used to either grip and then pull food from branches or to cut mouthfuls of plant matter.
The Discovery and History of Styracosaurus
From analyzing various fossil discoveries over the centuries it is thought that Styracosaurus was related to Centrosaurus, with them both having the same ecological niche. According to this belief, Styracosaurus was the dinosaur that evolved to replace Centrosaurus.
There is only one species of Styracosaurus known today, that of S. albertensis though in the past it was thought that there were more species though these have now been identified as being the same as S.albertensis or been reassigned to different genera.
The first fossil remains discovered of Styracosaurus was of an almost complete skull recovered by Charles Sternberg from Alberta, Canada in 1913 in the area which is known today as the Dinosaur Park Formation. At a later visit in 1935 to the quarry the missing lower jaws and most of the post cranial skeleton was also recovered.
In 1915 Barnum Brown collected an almost complete articulated skeleton with a partial skull from within the Dinosaur Park Formation. When comparing this specimen to previous finds however, it was discovered that this individual had a smaller tail bone and distinctively different cheekbones than Styracosaurus albertensis, as well as a more robust jaw and a different shaped frill. It was agreed that both specimens were from the same genus but this find was sufficiently distinct from the holotype and warranted a new species named Styracosaurus parksi though it is now accepted that this specimen is actually the same as S. albertensis.
In 1930 Charles Gilmore found another species of Styracosaurus and named it S. ovatus but today this is regarded as being a male-female variant of the S. albertensis
More recently in 2006 Darren Tanke relocated and visited the long-lost S. parksi site and found pieces of skull abandoned by the 1915 crew. It is hoped that more evidence can be collected to determine for sure if S. albertensis and S. parksi are the same or not.
The Importance of Styracosaurus
Styracosaurus is a significant palaeontological find not only because it provides insight in to late Cretaceous life, but also because it exemplifies variation among the Ceratopsidae family. Although often confused with Triceratops by laymen, the Styracosaurus, offers a look at how different genera within this family split from each other and evolved with different and unique physical features.