Dinosaurs: Styracosaurus!

Styracosaurus,Copyright 2015 Liz Vitale

It’s about time I paid tribute to my most favorite dinosaur of all, Styracosaurus, or “spiked lizard”, of the Cretaceous Period (about 75.5 to 75 million years ago). I am a huge fan of the Ceratopsians–the horned dinosaurs–and Styracosaurus wields probably the most impressive battery of horns of any of them.

It stood about 6 feet tall and 18 feet long. Styracosaurus had a rhinoceros-like body, with a short tail and powerful shoulders.The skull was massive, with a tall straight nose horn, and a neck frill adorned with at least four large spikes. Each of the four longest frill spikes was comparable in length to the nose horn, at 19 to 21 inches. The nose horn is estimated to have been about 19 inches long.

It had a hornlike beak for tearing plants and an array of teeth in the back of its mouth arranged in groups called batteries. Older teeth on top were continually replaced by the teeth underneath them. Unlike hadrosaurids, which also had dental batteries, ceratopsid teeth sliced but did not grind. With the bulk of their bodies they may have knocked down larger plants and small trees to then shear off the leaves and twigs.

Much speculation has gone around about the purpose of the neck frills on dinosaurs such as Styracosaurus. Their function has been the subject of debate since the first horned dinosaurs were discovered. In the case of Styracosaurus, the nasal horn seems to have been used for defense or combat with others of the same species, while the spikes along the frill are not in a position to be consciously used for stabbing. A predator have thought twice about attacking an animal with such a massive display of spikes,however, and this could have been one function of the frill and frill spikes, But now scientists are beginning to lean toward a theory first proposed in 1961–that the frill and spikes are primarily for sexual display, much like those of horned and antlered animals of today. Evidence that visual display was important, either in courtship or in other social behavior, can be seen in the fact that horned dinosaurs differ markedly in their adornments, making each species highly distinctive. Also, modern animals with such ornamentation use them in a similar manner. It has even been considered that the skin of the frill was brightly colored, adding to the display value.

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