Skip to Content

Triceratops Compared to an Elephant – The Surprising Differences

Triceratops is one of the most famous dinosaurs attributed to its unique feature: the three horns in its head. Looking at a Triceratops, you might have compared it to elephants of the modern days because of its tusks and striking body similarity. Both are equally magnificent, but it will also be nice to know the differences and similarities.

How does Triceratops compare to an elephant? Triceratops are larger and stronger than modern-day elephants. They are similar in that they are both thick-skinned herbivores and have a horned structure on their heads used for their daily activities. 

Dinosaurs have long existed before humans, and their existence has always stirred up our curiosity. The presence of modern-day animals that resemble these dinosaurs is one way to glimpse and dig deeper into the life they lived. 

Elephants and Triceratops are just one of the many that have comparative anatomy, which is fascinating. In this article, I will share a comparison of the elephants and Triceratops. Their similarities and differences will be focused and how they are related to each other.

Is the Triceratops Bigger Than The Elephant? Anatomy Comparison

One of the first things that we can compare for these organisms is size. One piece of information we want to know is which one is bigger. Here are some facts.

Triceratops Unique Features and Behavior

The Triceratops is one of the largest and most remarkable land animals that ever existed, with a three-horned skull, a bird-like beak, and a massive frill that may grow about one meter or around three feet across. The horns could have been utilized to defend against Tyrannosaurus assaults. 

Triceratops, particularly Triceratops horridus, were Ceratopsian dinosaurs that lived between 68 million and 66 million years ago. 

triceratops-compared-to-an-elephant-the-surprising-differences-AdventureDinosaurs

It is a Ceratopsian dinosaur that is recognized as one of the largest and heaviest in its group. While its size and length are impressive, reaching lengths of 26–30 feet and nearly reaching ten feet in height, its weight makes it such a dangerous creature, according to estimates.

According to a recent study in 2011, a Triceratops was a gigantic beast, equivalent to an African Elephant. 

It could reach 30 feet or nine meters in length and weighed well over 11,000 pounds or 5,000 kilograms, with some specimens measuring about 7,150 kgs.

It had powerful limbs that allowed it to move and sustain its large bulk. The forelimbs, shorter than the hind limbs, had three hooves, while the hind limbs had four.

An article published in Proceedings of the Royal Society in 2012 found that Triceratops had an upright posture, rather than a sprawled-out posture, like that of lizards.

A Triceratops is an herbivore with a beak-like structure that scrapes vegetation, mostly shrubs. It is also perfect for plucking smaller plants on the ground. Its horns are also used to trip off taller plants or trees. 

Its natural predator, like other herbivores, was T-Rex. When it comes to T Rex, Triceratops is likely to have had one-on-one encounters with the deadly predator, and it likely won at least half of the time with its horn weapon and robust bodies. It was also prone to attacks from T-Rex.

YouTube Video About The Story of Triceratops

YouTube video by Benjamin Burger which discusses at length all about the initial discovery of Triceratops other ceratopsians around the world – AdventureDinosaurs

The puncture marks on fossil frills reveal that male Triceratops fought each other with their horns, most likely to impress females. 

Many different individuals’ fossils are found in the same area, and numerous additional horned dinosaurs have lived in herds.

Elephant Unique Features and Behavior

Order Proboscidea is where elephants belong and is considered the largest terrestrial animal on Earth. The extant member, namely African Bush Elephant, measured 24 feet long, 13 feet tall, and weighed over six tons.

African Bush Elephants are herbivores, which means they eat a lot of grass, bark, and fruit. People assaults or attacks rarely happen, and when they do, it’s typically because they’re in musth or an aggressive period, and it is terrible whenever they assault humans.

Elephants also have large ears and massive limbs. They are scattered in Asia, and Africa, especially in forests, deserts, marshes, and savannahs. 

They also show matriarchy where the experienced female elephants will lead the herd, but they also combine with the larger bulls of elephants to make a bigger group. (Source)

Naturally, lions are brave enough to hunt elephants, especially young or weak ones, but a full-grown healthy adult is a difficult prey. When it dies, scavengers like maggots and vultures consume its meat. 

elephants-are-mammals-and-their-skin-is-different-to-triceratops-AdventureDinosaurs

Elephants are threatened with their tusks being harvested and sold in the black market, possibly being found, resulting in new tuskless elephant breeds.

Similarities and Some Differences

Elephants and Triceratops have unique features, and certain similarities can be observed in both. Triceratops, like elephants, was herbivorous, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it seeing you as a meal. Both focused mainly on available vegetation around them.

Even though an Elephant is powerful, it will struggle to defeat a Triceratops because the dinosaur was nearly twice as heavy as the elephant and the Triceratops. 

Despite being heavier, it was a faster animal because it could run at a speed of 20 MPH, whereas the African Bush Elephant can only run at a little over 11 MPH.

Triceratops is also more used to fighting than elephants because elephants rarely have to fight predators because they are larger than all animals. In contrast, Triceratops had direct encounters with enormous predatory theropod dinosaurs around the same size as herbivorous dinosaurs.

A horn was eaten off a fragmentary Triceratops fossil recovered in 1997, showing bite marks that match Tyrannosaurus. According to the fossil, some Triceratops survived these confrontations since the recovered horn healed after being bitten.

Prey animals can alert each other of danger and reduce their chances of being singled out by predators traveling in herds. On the other hand, Triceratops was unique, as its remains are frequently found solitary, implying that they spent much of their life alone.

.

At least 8 out of 10 times, Triceratops comes out on top. The size of a Triceratops and an African Elephant was similar, but the ceratopsian had the weapons. The elephant may have tusks, but the Triceratops’ horns were a formidable opponent.

The only true advantage I believe the elephant has over the Triceratops is that it is a mammal. In contrast, the Triceratops is merely a reptile, although intelligence isn’t really useful in most direct one-on-one clashes.

Are Triceratops Related to Elephants – A Look At Classification and Phylogeny

An easier way to look at the relatedness of the Triceratops to elephants is via evolutionary relationships. This relationship is depicted by a phylogenetic tree that will help us gain insights into their relationship.

Quick Classification of Elephants 

Elephants belong to the Family Elephantidae under Class Mammalia. They are the only existing members of the family. They are also referred to as pachyderms which means thick-skinned. 

Male elephants are called bulls, but the eldest female leads herds. The closest living groups of elephants are manatees and dugongs. 

There are three recognized species of elephants, namely Sub-Saharan Africa’s bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), as well as South and Southeast Asia’s Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). 

Within species, there are distinct morphological traits that are key identifiers like ear size and tusk length. 

Elephants being mammals, are smart, with the largest brain for terrestrial animals. They exhibit good mental functions like problem-solving and show maternal care, which requires a good level of intelligence.

Brief Phylogeny of Triceratops

Dinosaurs have been defined as all reptiles, including Triceratops. It is under Class reptilia based on Linnaean classification and specifically under Ceratopsidae, commonly known as the horned dinosaur. 

Triceratops was used as a reference to Dinosauria that are ancestors of modern birds. Its phylogeny is still in the works today, with the latest finding that the cranial morphology can be a basis of reclassification among identified species. 

Out of the 17 proposed species based on fossil finds, only two species are considered valid, namely T. prorsus and T. horridus.

In terms of intelligence, the Triceratops is behind the elephants with an EQ of 0.11. It is lower compared to its body and other herbivore dinosaurs that existed before. 

A Closer Look at Elephant and Triceratops Relatedness

Elephants weighed roughly 6,800 kilograms (15,000 pounds) and had a massive 8-foot skull, comparable to Triceratops in size. It resembles Triceratops but has a thinner frill, a longer nose, and a slightly larger horn with larger ears. 

Aside from elephants, rhinos also seem to spark a similarity with Triceratops; however, both are not. Looking at the evolutionary tree, these species are not related. 

Triceratops are reptiles, and elephants are mammals. They emerged separately, and the traits of elephants and rhinos are somewhat very different from Triceratops despite the similarity in morphological appearance. 

Snapshot of Where Triceratops Fossils Have Been Found

There are key places where Triceratops fossils are found, and few related species are found in other equally fascinating places. These are some of the locations.

The Places Were Triceratops’ Fossils Were Recorded

Triceratops (genus Triceratops) was a giant quadrupedal plant-eating ceratopsian dinosaur with three conspicuous horns and a conspicuous bone at the back of its skull called frill. 

Fossils of the three-horned face, as its Latin name is commonly rendered, date from the Cretaceous Period’s final 3 million years, making it one of the last non-avian dinosaurs to emerge. 

Triceratops is the most common dinosaur found in western North America’s top Cretaceous strata, and its remains have been discovered all over the country. (Source)

While many other gigantic ceratopsians have been discovered in massive bone beds, including multiple individuals, Triceratops has only been identified in groups of three or more individuals on a few occasions. (Source)

The first specimen, discovered in 1887, was mistaken for a massive, extinct bison species. 

O. C. Marsh, an American paleontologist, named and characterized Triceratops in 1889. It was not until later that it was discovered that it was a horned dinosaur. T. horridus and T. prorsus are the two species that have been identified so far.

The first Triceratops bones were discovered in Denver in 1887 and brought to Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh initially mistook it for a bison. Marsh did not call the beast Triceratops until more Triceratops bones were discovered in 1888.

According to Scannella’s 2014 PNAS article, at least 50 Triceratops skulls have been discovered in the Hell Creek Formation alone.

While no full skeleton has been discovered, partial skeletons and skulls have been discovered in Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Canada, including some from newborns excavated in Saskatchewan and Alberta. 

The Triceratops lived only in North America because the continent had already split from Europe when it formed and moved across the ocean along with South America.

The majority of Triceratops fossils have been discovered as single individuals. However, scientists revealed the first discovery of a Triceratops bonebed in 2009, which had three juvenile remains together and proved the dinosaur was friendly and maybe herding.

Related Species in Other Places

Triceratops belongs to the horned dinosaurs, and it has related species that roamed around other areas, one of which is Pachyrhinosaurus. 

It is also a ceratopsid dinosaur in North America around 67 million years ago. It also has a prominent skull and horn structure; hence the name Pachyrhinosaurus means a reptile with a thick nose in Greek. 

It is also herbivore, and substantial fossil evidence for adults and juveniles was unearthed in significant locations.

In addition, the first Asian Triceratops was unearthed in China in 2009. It is one great proof that Triceratops was able to live outside North America.

Unlike true Triceratops of North America, commonly found in moist and cold areas, Asian ceratopsian species were found in warmer, arid areas. 

In Europe, a small-bodied ceratopsid was recorded. The species was identified, and Ajkaceratops kozmai shows a clear key feature of Triceratops, particularly the horned skull. (Source)

Conclusion

If we compare elephants and Triceratops in terms of size and strength, then Triceratops will be the winner, but in terms of intelligence, elephants are the ones you should bet on. No matter what species wins in what aspects, both are equally magnificent and important, which we should focus on.