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Smallest Triceratops skull ever found provides clues to dinosaur's growth

Berkeley -- With its big, hockey puck-sized eyes, shortened face and nubby horns, it was probably as cute as a button - at least to its mother, a three-horned dinosaur called Triceratops that could weigh as much as 10 tons and had one of the largest skulls of any land animal on the planet.

Visitors to the University of California, Berkeley's Valley Life Sciences Building now can judge for themselves. A cast of the foot-long skull from the youngest Triceratops fossil ever found is on display in the building's Marion Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library. The actual skull, also at UC Berkeley and in fragments, is described by campus paleontologist Mark Goodwin in the March issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Mounted in the library's entryway, the diminutive skull, likely from a year-old, three-foot-long baby, is dwarfed by the more than six-foot-long skull of a mature Triceratops. Standing menacingly outside the library's doors is a life-size cast of Triceratops' nemesis, Tyrannosaurus rex.

Despite the pup's size, its remains are telling Goodwin a lot about how dinosaurs grew, the purpose of their head ornaments and the characteristics of their ancestors. In particular, since the horns and frill are present from a very early age, it is unlikely they were used exclusively for sexual display, he said.

"The baby Triceratops confirmed our argument that the horns and frill of the skull likely had another function other than sexual display or competition with rivals, which people have often argued, and allows us to propose that they were just as important for species recognition and visual communication in these animals," Goodwin said.

Triceratops horridus was a strictly North American dinosaur, though ceratopsian relatives with different but equally formidable ornamentation roamed China and Mongolia during the Cretaceous period, 65-144 million years ago. Adult Triceratops could be nearly 10 feet tall and 26 f
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
6-Mar-2006


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