The Triceratops was about 9.8 feet tall and 30 feet long and weighed up to 26,000 pounds. It was, in other words, a massive dinosaur. You’re very curious about what comprised the Triceratops’ diet at such a huge size. What did this horned dino eat?
Triceratopses were herbivores or plant-eaters. During the Late Cretaceous Period, when they lived, the Triceratops had their pick among conifers, ferns, cycads, eudicots, and magnolias. Its beak-like mouth was adept at plucking.
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We have the answers ahead if you have more questions about the Triceratops’ diet. We’ll discuss its herbivorous eating habits, whether the Triceratops was prey or predator, and which plants it might have enjoyed.
Let’s get started!
Is a Triceratops an Herbivore or Carnivore?
How do paleontologists and other dinosaur experts know whether a dinosaur species was an herbivore or a carnivore? They only have to look at the dino’s teeth.
For that reason, we can say with certainty that the Triceratops was an herbivore otherwise known as a plant-eater. This Cretaceous species had a beak-like appendage, with the top of the beak made of rostral bone. The beak, experts believe, wasn’t the best for biting, but it would have been fantastic for plucking and grasping. It is part of what points us in the direction of the Triceratops being herbivorous.
The Triceratops could have had somewhere in the ballpark of 800 teeth. The teeth were organized into what is known as batteries or groups. Up to 40 teeth would be arranged in the dino’s mouth per battery.
A tiny set of cranial fossil bones near a creature’s upper jaw, the premaxilla did not have teeth. It isn’t entirely uncommon, as some creatures lack teeth in the premaxilla.
In a Triceratops’ maxilla or a fixed upper jawbone were between 36 and 40 teeth in a battery. Some of the teeth in this battery were stacked on top of one another vertically, which is interesting. The location of these teeth was very close to one another, and the battery curved inward.
The fascinating thing about Triceratops teeth–besides their sheer number, that is–is how the teeth were designed, so to speak. Categorized as self-wearing, the Triceratops had to use its teeth to shape them.
That said, the teeth do have a different shape. According to a 2015 report from Live Science, Triceratops’ teeth were scalloped for slicing.
Here’s yet another cool fact about Triceratops teeth. The dinosaur species had five tissue layers. Today’s reptiles have dentine and enamel, and that’s it.
According to the Live Science article, the dentine and blood vessel layer of Triceratopses’ teeth, known as vasodentine, is only found in bony fish species.
Since the vasodentine layer was so porous, it didn’t wear down as easily. Even still, the Triceratops could continually replenish its teeth as it lost them from use.
Is a Triceratops a Prey or Predator?
The name of the Triceratops translates to “three-horned face” due to the dual head horns and the front nasal horn of the dinosaur species. The Triceratops also featured a frilled skull.
Triceratops was one of many horned dinosaurs that existed during the Cretaceous in North America. Scientists believe that these and other horned dinosaurs lived in herds, possibly providing protection from carnivorous dinosaurs.
You might assume that the Triceratops was a ferocious predator with these intimidating features. Remember that this was one large dinosaur, although maybe not compared to some sauropods.
However, the Triceratops was largely regarded not as a predator but as prey. In general, herding animals are the key target of large carnivorous dinosaurs.
Remember, the Triceratops didn’t eat other dinosaurs. Its head naturally hung low to reach plants. Although it had a large body, a thick tail, a beak, and horns, it used those mostly for reaching taller plants, not hunting down dinosaurs or other creatures.
What hunted the Triceratops?
Primarily, it was the T. Rex. The Tyrannosaurus largely consumed herbivorous dinosaurs, with the Triceratops at the top of the list and the Edmontosaurus.
The Edmontosaurus was no small dinosaur either, just like the Triceratops. Standing 9.8 feet tall at the hips, the Edmontosaurus weighed 4.4 short tons.
If it weren’t the T. Rex that was hunting down the Triceratops, then it would be Velociraptors.
These fast-moving carnivores were a part scavenger, part hunter. They mostly ate creatures smaller than them, but occasionally, the Velociraptor could have eaten Triceratopses, especially scavenged ones.
Could the Triceratops defend itself?
Yes, and it likely did.
A National Geographic article from 2009 wrote about the findings from a team of experts who reviewed the fossilized skulls of Triceratopses.
According to the findings, Triceratops’ head frill was likely used as a shield to protect its neck. The neck frill encompassed the back of the neck and was partially alone on each side. The bony frill is one of the largest parts of the fossil skull. Interestingly, taken altogether, the Triceratops has the largest skulls found in plant-eating dinosaurs.
As for the horns? Those could have helped the Triceratops fight other dinosaur species. It, too, would be done defensively, as Triceratopses had no reason to hunt dinosaurs when they ate plant matter. The two long horns could stab the attacking theropod dinosaur, and the nose horn of the Triceratops could also be used to impale the aggressive dinosaur.
What Type of Plants Did Triceratops Eat?
We know by this point that the Triceratops could use its body and facial features to access even taller plants and that this dino’s teeth were great for slicing and plucking. The Triceratops was thought to have eaten various plants. Fossilized stomach remains of fibrous plant material have been found, although it is impossible to determine exactly which plant it represents.
Keeping the above information in mind and the plant species that existed during the Cretaceous Period, here are the types of plants the Triceratops might have eaten.
The cone-bearing trees known as conifers were a source of food, albeit one that was difficult for some dinosaurs to access and was certainly tough vegetation.
The beak of the Triceratops could have plucked conifers, and its wear-resistant teeth might have allowed the Triceratops to eat the cones or the needle-like foliage of a conifer tree.
Ferns still exist today and are beloved as indoor and outdoor plants. The foliage is thin and flimsy and thus would have posed no challenge to a hungry Triceratops who needed a meal.
Like conifers, cycads are seed plants. These trees include a woody, thick trunk and stiff pinnate leaves.
Again, cycads would not have been something that every dinosaur could eat. If a Triceratops could ingest conifers, cycads wouldn’t have posed much more challenge.
The flowering plant clade called the eudicots first appeared during the Cretaceous Period. The flowers are known for producing dual seed leaves. A Triceratops’ low-hanging posture could have allowed it to find eudicots easily and munch them up.
Today, magnolias are a coveted, beloved plant species. Back in the Cretaceous Period, the flowers could have been a meal of a Triceratops that was passing through. The magnolia flower usually grows on trees, so the Triceratops would have had to use its frills to knock down the flowers.
Oak trees also grew throughout the Cretaceous Period, giving way to species that today are plentiful in North America. Those include the white, Oregon white, bur, chestnut, northern red, southern red, pink, and black oaks.
Growing leaves of varying sizes and patterns, oak trees can stand 70 feet tall. It’s unlikely a Triceratops could have reached the branches of an oak tree unless they were low-hanging due to its height. The leaves on fallen branches could have been consumed, though.
The deciduous tree species known as the beech emerged during the Cretaceous Period with oaks, and the next tree, we’ll talk about maples.
Beech trees stand at 50 to 70 feet tall, which means that the Triceratops would have been left to collect leaves from fallen branches if it wanted to ingest beech leaves.
The colorful maple tree we know and love today also originated during the Cretaceous Period. With more than 130 species, some of which are native to North America, the Triceratops would have had its fill of maples.
Even better, maples stand anywhere between 33 and 148 feet tall. A Triceratops would have easier reaching some smaller maple tree branches than a beech or oak tree.
The Triceratops is a Cretaceous dinosaur with a beak, a frilled head, and three horns on its face. It is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs and one of the more famous dinosaurs known by the public.
Despite its rather imposing visage, the Triceratops was exclusively a plant-eater. It led to the species often being targeted by the T. Rex.
We hope you learned some interesting new facts about the Triceratops!