Is Triceratops One or Three Species?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Triceratops, with its three large horns and great ruffled headdress, seems distinctive enough, but at one time paleontologists had named more than a dozen different species of the rhinoceros-like dinosaur.

These have been condensed into three recognized species in the Triceratops genus, but some researchers believe that number should be lower still: They suggest there is just one Triceratops, of whom the size and shape of its skull and head ornaments changed as it matured.

dinosaur fossils

"It's important to understand how different dinosaurs grew," study researcher John Scannella, of Montana State University, told LiveScience in an email. "We are learning that many of them underwent considerable transformations throughout development, which leaves the potential for many different-looking growth stages that may be misinterpreted as many different-looking species of dinosaur."

The three species in question are: Triceratops, the classic three-horned, clown-ruffled dinosaur; Nedoceratops hatcheri, which the researchers suggest is an intermediate stage, but is only represented by a single fossil; and Torosaurus latus, which seems to be much larger than Triceratops and of which there are about a half dozen good-quality specimens. In the growth-stage scenario, Torosaurus would be the "old man" of the group.

Not everyone fully agrees with the remodeling, particularly Andrew Farke, a researcher from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in California. "I agree with them on many points… It's just the interpretation that I disagree with," he said, referring to the reserachers' conclusion that the different species are just different growth stages of the same species.

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