Triceratops

Unearthing an icon

One of the most complete and significant dinosaurs in history has been found - and it's coming to Melbourne Museum

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Love at first sight

Do you remember your first dinosaur encounter? Was it in a childhood book, movie or perhaps a toy?

Triceratops: How did it move?

What can we learn about what a dinosaur looked like and moved like from examining its skeleton?

Chipping away at the past

Experts uncover the Triceratops from the sedimentary rock it has been encased in for millennia.

Piecing the puzzle together

How do scientists know where each bone fragment goes?

Anatomy of an icon

Why did Triceratops become extinct, what was it about its size and features that made it vulnerable?

67 Million years in the making

Vertebrate Palaeontologist Tim Ziegler looks at the origins of the Triceratops fossil.

Meet the Triceratops

Museums Victoria Palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald travels to Canada to inspect a very special new acquisition.

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Frequently asked questions

What is it called?

Triceratops [try-sair-uh-tops] That means ‘three-horned face’ in Ancient Greek!

When was it alive?

In the late Cretaceous - 68-66 million years ago. It was one of the last known non-bird dinosaurs, living right up to the day that an asteroid hit the Earth causing a global mass extinction.

What did it eat?

Safe to say Triceratops was a vegetarian, or as we say it was herbivorous, but we don’t know exactly what plants it ate. Their teeth were excellent chompers for shearing and slicing tough vegetation.

Where were Triceratops found?

In what is now western North America. Museums Victoria’s specimen was found in Montana, USA under 1.5 metres of sandstone.

How many bones have been discovered?

Our Triceratops fossil has almost all its bones, including a complete skull and the entire vertebral column aka the spine!

Why is it so special?

Our Triceratops fossil is the one of the most globally significant dinosaur discoveries and it is the most complete real dinosaur you can see anywhere in Australasia.

How much does the fossil weigh?

More than 1,000kg.

How much of the fossil do you have?

At 87% complete, the specimen is the most complete and most finely preserved Triceratops ever found.

Who found this fossil?

The Triceratops  fossil was discovered in 2014 on private property in Montana, USA by Mr Craig Pfister. Craig said he saw the Triceratops skeleton when he noticed part of the vertebrae from the tail eroding out of sandstone on a slope.

Did Triceratops live in a herd?

Some horned dinosaurs are thought to have lived in herds because multiple fossils have been found at the one location. But Triceratops are usually found individually, which could suggest they spent much of their lives alone.

Why the horns?

We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely they were used for display to either attract or threaten other Triceratops. And if the visual threat didn’t work, then the horns could have been used in combat between rival Triceratops, much like present day male cattle, sheep and deer use their horns and antlers. It’s also possible that the horns could have been a last-ditch defence against the predatory Tyrannosaurus rex, which likely preyed on young, elderly or unhealthy Triceratops.

Eek! OK, and why the frill?

Although the frill might have been to protect its neck, some specimens show bite marks and punctures, which suggests the frill wasn’t completely Tyrannosaurus proof! It is perhaps more likely that the frill was a visual display indicating how strong or healthy a Triceratops was, similar to the horns, antlers, and tusks of some mammals. My what an impressive frill you have!

How much did a full-grown Triceratops weigh?

Between 6 and 12 tonnes, meaning it would break your scales at home. In fact, Triceratops has one of the largest skulls of any land animal that has walked the planet.

Wowee that is heavy!

Yep. The skull of our fossil, which is 99% complete, weighs 261kg.

How long and tall was a Triceratops?

6–8 metres long and over 2 metres tall.

When was the first Triceratops discovered?

The first specimen was discovered in 1887. The Triceratops was officially named and described by American palaeontologist O.C. Marsh in 1889. This was during the 'Bone Wars' when he was competing against rival palaeontologist E.D. Cope for dinosaur discovery domination. With its three horns, large frill and parrot-like beak, the Triceratops is now one of the most instantly recognizable animals that has ever walked the Earth.  

Are there different species of Triceratops?

There are now two recognised species of Triceratops, Triceratops horridus and Triceratops prorsus. Museums Victoria's specimen is a Triceratops horridus, which lived slightly earlier in time than Triceratops prorsus.

Alright, so when can I see it?

There is lots of work to do to prepare this massive fossil for its public debut, but we’re excited to have it ready for visitors in late 2021.

At Melbourne Museum, right?

Yes, there’s no better place for Triceratops than the Melbourne Museum.  

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