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Is Triceratops Related To Rhinos? The Surprising Differences

Is Triceratops related to Rhinos? Comparing modern-day animals may be one way to determine this. In the public sphere, the Triceratops is considered one of the friendly dinosaurs in the infamous Land Before Time known for its three-horned head. Unlike other dinosaur species with no striking resemblance in modern-day animals, Triceratops unsurprisingly appears like a rhinoceros minus the extra horn. With these similarities, it is undoubtedly essential to know if these two distinct species are related. 


Rhinos and Triceratops are not related to any degree. Despite the similarities in the two, such as their horns and thick skins, rhinos are mammals, and no dinosaurs are mammals. It makes rhinos more close to humans than dinosaurs.

Suppose you compare Triceratops and rhinoceros side by side; these two will appear like peas in a pod. These similarities had me questioning how these two are related, and if yes, how close are they described in the family tree. 

If you want to solve this mystery as much as I do, this article will share their unique morphology, similarities, differences, and relatedness.

Triceratops Classification and Phylogeny

For a start, let us look at the phylogeny of Triceratops and what unique traits it has. It will explain how these species diverged and are placed in the dinosaur family tree.

The Roots of Triceratops: Where It Is in Phylogeny

Similar to other dinosaurs, there are no existing Triceratops today. All data and available information we have are based on fossils and other pieces of evidence that scientists were able to get their hands on. 

Fossils or bones of Triceratops were quite ordinary compared to other dinosaurs. A part of the skull with an attached horn that resembled a bison was first discovered in Denver, Colorado, in 1887. These remains were studied and considered as the type specimen for Triceratops. There were also fossils recovered from western Canada, the United States, and Mexico. 

It is placed underclass Reptilia which means that it belonged to the non-avian dinosaurs. Though it is non-avian, Triceratops has this front part of the mouth forming a beak with indentations similar to bird species.

It is further classified into the family Ceratopsidae with only two species accepted to date, namely T. horridus and T. prorus, out of the 17 proposed species. Under Family Ceratopsidae, it belonged to subfamily Chasmorinae, considered the most successful herbivores in their time. 

Generally, the most distinguishing feature of this subfamily is their horns and frills, which are used as an identifying feature of species. The unique shape of the frill is probably the reason why many species are frequently described. 

The horns and frills of Triceratops change their shape as the individual develops from juvenile to adult making it possible to distinguish between age classes.

In 2015, a newly described Ceratopsid was found by paleontologists in Alberta, which they named Regaliceratops. It is said to be the closest relative of a Triceratops. This species can be distinguished from Triceratops with its more extended nose horn.

Lastly, it may have been the last non-avian dinosaur to have evolved in the dinosaur timeline about 65 million years ago. (Source)

Triceratops’ Anatomy: How Unique It Can Get

Triceratops has a body that can weigh as heavy as 16 tons, making it an enormous dinosaur and a body length of around 30 feet. 

Its bone is relatively denser, with a massive skull that weighs around a third of its body weight. It has four limbs which it uses to walk on the ground, making it a quadrupedal. It is, in fact, one of the heaviest land animals on the face of the planet.  

Its skull and other skeletal structures are the most apparent structure in Triceratops, especially its three horns situated on the snot just above the eyes. It also has an intimidating frill bone at the dorsal side of its skull studded with epoccipitals or small spikes. Like the Parasaurolophus crest, it was also possibly used for attracting mates. 

In some fossils found by researchers, bite marks were also seen in Triceratops frill, which might protect its neck from predators trying to bite it from behind. These frills are not just present in dinosaurs but also can be seen in modern-day reptiles. (Source)

In addition to its bony structures are the smaller horn-like protrusions in its cheekbones and a snout forming a beak which is common in herbivorous dinosaurs

Rhinoceros Classification and Difference from Dinosaurs

Rhinoceros is just as fascinating as a Triceratops. It is an extant animal, however, threatened significantly by illegal poaching that reduced its population. Let us hope for the best that it won’t end up like the Triceratops. In the meantime, here is information about the rhino and how it relates to dinosaurs.

Rhinoceros Traits: Triceratops Look-Alike

Rhinoceros or commonly called “rhino,” are ungulates with several species. They weigh over 1000kg but with a minimal brain-to-body ratio. 

The prominent structure of Rhinos is their “nose-horn,” which are made of keratin, found in your fingernails and hair. (Source)

The horns can come in pairs or individually positioned in the snout comparable to the Triceratops horn.

The rhino’s horn is the target of poachers because it has a high value in the black market. The primary purpose of the rhino’s horn is to show superiority over a territory. 

They also use this horn to defend their young and more straightforward functions like breaking branches and water-digging. (Source)

Like Triceratops, rhinos are herbivorous, feeding primarily on vegetation. Rhinos also have thick skin that acts as a barrier, just like Triceratopses.  

Rhino and its Lineage: Difference from Dinosaurs

Despite the similarities of rhino to Triceratops, they are no way near to a dinosaur. Rhinoceros belong to the family Rhinocerotidae with four living genera. 

The species started to appear about 5 million years ago in the Pliocene epoch, which is significantly more recent than when Triceratops existed. 

There are five general rhino kinds: white, black, Indian, Sumatran, and Javan rhinos. Rhinoceros are placental mammals that feed their young with milk which is not seen in dinosaurs. 

They are closest to zebras, horses, and donkeys, while dinosaurs are ancestors of birds and reptiles.

Rhinos may have this dinosaur feel, but they have many features that are not found in any dinosaur species. Some of these are mammalian hair and the mammary glands. Rhinos give birth to live young while dinosaurs, like cold-blooded animals, lay eggs.

Taking a Closer Look At The Armored Skin and Horns of the Triceratops and Rhinoceros

Again, the skin and the horn for rhino and Triceratops are the most similar features of the two. These body parts can be similar or different in terms of form and function.

A Comparison of Skin

Due to their skin, rhinoceros and Triceratops are considered adaptable to their environment and era. Both species are thick-skinned and act as a barrier against environmental stressors such as changing temperature, bites, and scratches as part of aggressive behavior between individuals. 

The main difference between the two is that a Triceratops skin is reptile-like arranged in an overlapping manner. Its belly is covered with scutes or large scales, while the remaining skin has tiny scales. This formation makes its skin a dermal armor. 

 A rhino’s skin is five cm thick with an overlapping layer of collagen- a protein found in muscles and tendons. Compared to other mammalian skin, the rhino’s dermis has thicker collagen, which made it well-adapted to blows from horns of other rhinos. 

It’s also called a pachyderm together with elephants which means “thick-skinned.”

The Battle of The Horns: Similarities and Differences

The horns of these two are similar and different in many ways. First, both horns assume a role in defense and are used for simple tasks in species’ daily activities. These two horns are solid, making them a robust structure in the head. 

The rhinos’ horns are the same structure that makes up a horse hoof, but a fascinating fact is that it is not directly attached to the skull. The horn develops from bony growths under the skin. Just like hair, it continues to grow in its lifetime, though much slower in adults. 

Some records even show that rhino’s horn has healing properties, and sadly this has been exploited throughout the years, making them a target for poachers. 

On the other hand, the Triceratops horn is directly attached to the skull, unlike the rhino. The two horns it has adjacent to the frills are genuine, meaning that they are solid bone structures covered by keratin. 

The small horn in the snout, if present, is just like a rhino’s horn but relatively softer, which makes it not of great use in combat.


Rhino and Triceratops are just two of many examples reflecting the relationship between the past and present. Both may look similar and have the same traits, but each one is a distinct species. Specifically, rhinoceros is a mammal, and dinosaurs are of reptile and avian-descent. 

Next time, when you come across this question, you can confidently say that they may have a striking resemblance, but they are unique species just as they are. Related or not, they are indeed fascinating creatures. 

● I’ve written a whole article about hadrosaurs including the different types and the ones with distinctive head crests which gives a broader perspective on these duck-billed dinosaurs.

● If you are interested in reading more about dinosaur teeth, including hadrosaurs and why scientists speculate hadrosaurs did not feast on hard vegetation, I wrote an article just about this topic.