Meet the Styracosaurus, the largest spiked lizard with a 2-foot nasal horn. The Styracosaurus was a genus of herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaurs. It lived during the cretaceous period about 75.5 to 75 million years ago. It had different species, and the most popular is the Styracosaurus albertensis.
The Styracosaurus was named after its fossil location. The two types of species include the Styracosaurus ovatus and Styracosaurus parksi. Its species were found to move in a herd, which offered protection for their young against predators.
In this article, we’ll dust the archives to better understand the mystery behind this two-foot horned lizard. Read on!
Description and Size
The name Styracosaurus means, “spiked lizard.” It originated from the ancient Greek words, “styrax,” meaning, “spike at the rear-end of a spear shaft,” and, “sauros,” meaning “lizard.” The Styracosaurus had a bulky body, four short legs, a short tail, and a particularly unique head region.
The Skull and Horns
The styracosaurus had a spiked-head, hence the name of the dinosaur. The skull had a notable tall, straight nasal horn and a neck frill crowned with at least four large spikes. Each neck frill spike was relatively comparable in length to the nasal horn.
The nasal horn was estimated to have been up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) long and about 6 inches (15centimetres) wide at the base.
On the neck frill, the longest spikes were about 1.6-1.8ft (50-55 centimeters). The upper pair of horns pointed upwards while the lower ones gently curved out to the sides. The smaller spikes pointed outwards on the sides.
The Styracosaurus had a smaller horn on each cheek as well. These horns were closer to its eye. Younger Styracosaurus might have had brow horns, which are thought to have been pyramid-shaped. However, these horns would be replaced by pits when they become adults.
However, the real function of these horns and neck frills are yet to be discovered.
Some Speculations by paleontologists
- Defense: The horns were used as a weapon for self-defense in combat. It is also used to attack or scare off larger predators.
- Intra-species recognition and reproductive Display: Some paleontologists believed the horns were a signaling device for mating, intra-species recognition, and herd dominance.
- Muscle attachment: In 1996, it was suggested that the neck frill acted as anchor points for muscles. This gives the Styracosaurus its tremendous beak bite force.
The Styracosaurus’ skull had a beak and cheek teeth arranged in dental batteries. These dental batteries were formed from hundreds of teeth that were stacked in rows upon rows. They were used for shearing the plant into smaller pieces, not grinding. This feature came in handy considering the animal’s type of diet.
As stated earlier, the Styracosaurus had a bulky body. This resembled that of the rhinoceros. It was about 18ft (5.5 meters) long and weighed about 2.7 tons as an adult.
This compact size was likely an adaptation to use the nasal horn as a deadly weapon in interspecies combat. It had thick, powerful shoulders that could have been useful in intra-species combat. It had a short tail.
Just like the rhinoceros, the Styracosaurus had four short limbs. Each limb had a hoof-like toe that was sheathed in a horn. Its hindlimbs are slightly longer than the forelimbs. This would have made the Styracosaurus’ hips higher than its shoulders.
Scientists are yet to confirm if the styracosaurus supported its body weight by keeping its legs directly below its body or if the forelimbs were slightly spread out to the sides.
However, it’s speculated that the Styracosaurus limb size contributed to its speed. The Styracosaurus was able to move at a speed of 20 mph. This was fairly fast enough to deliver an impaling strike on its attackers with its nasal horn.
Diet – What Did the Styracosaurus Eat
The Styracosaurus was a herbivore. It fed on the low-growing foliage plants such as palms, cycads, and some other prehistoric foliages as well.
There is a hypothesis that the animal used its bulk size and core strength to knock down angiosperm trees so it could feed on softer vegetation in the tree’s canopy. However, this view is not confirmed yet.
The function of the Styracosaurus’ beak isn’t known yet. However, paleontologists suggest it was probably used to grip and pull plants. As mentioned earlier, its cheek teeth were used for shearing plants into smaller pieces.
Habitat – Where and When Did the Styracosaurus Live
The Styracosaurus lived about 75 million years ago. This was during the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous period in the Mesozoic Era.
The fossil remains of the Styracosaurus were discovered in Alberta, Canada.
This region was a vast coastal plain that contained a lot of shrubs and prehistoric foliages that the Styracosaurus could feed on.
Threats and Predators
The Styracosaurus wasn’t a predator, but it was prey to the larger carnivorous dinosaurs that existed during the Campanian stage as well. The Tyrannosaurus, the Albertosaurus, and the Spinosaurus were its main predators.
However, the Styracosaurus was known to move in herds, so they were rarely preyed on. Their predators preyed on the juvenile Styracosaurus that had been separated from the herd.
If an adult Styracosaurus is separated from the herd, it is equipped to defend itself against predators. It would use its nasal horn to attack predators. A successful charge can impale a juvenile tyrannosaurus and cause considerable damage to a matured Tyrannosaurus.
Discoveries and Fossils – When and Where It Was Found
The first fossil remains of the Styracosaurus were discovered in Alberta, Canada, by Charles Mortram Sternberg, a fossil collector and paleontologist. This discovery was made in a dinosaur park formation in an area now known as Dinosaur Provincial Park. Lawrence Lambe named the discovered specimen in 1913, Styracosaurus albertensis. This name was coined from its fossil location.
The fossils found were missing a lot of parts. So, in 1935, the Royal Ontario Museum crew revisited the quarry and found the lower jaw and other missing parts of the skeleton. After reassembling, the crew found out the Styracosaurus albertensis was around 18-19ft long and was about 5.4ft high at the hips.
Barnum Brown and his team, who, at the time, were employees of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, also found fossil remnants in 1915. They could retrieve an almost complete skeleton with a partial skull.
These fossils were found in the dinosaur park formation near Steveville in Alberta. They named the discovered specimen, Styracosaurus parksi. This was after Brown, and Erich Maren, a geologist and “dinosaur hunter,” compared the retrieved fossils with the former holotype.
They discovered that even though the specimens were retrieved from the same location and geological formation, they were distinctly different. So, the new species was named after William Parks, a renowned paleontologist.
Several other species have been discovered, and some have been assigned to other genera. For example, in 1890, Edward Cope described Styracosaurus sphenocerus as a species of Monoclonius, a herbivorous dinosaur. Also, Styracosaurus makeli was described by Stephen and Sylvia Czerkas in 1990.
One hundred Styracosaurus skeletons were discovered in the bonebed (area where an abundance of bones of any type are found) of Arizona. This indicated that they moved as a herd.
Extinction – When Did It Die
The Styracosaurus went extinct about 65 million years ago. The mass Cretaceous-Paleogene event was responsible for their extinction.
The 100 Styracosaurus skeletons recovered on the bonebed of Arizona confirm that the Styracosaurus species was a victim of a mass event that eliminated their whole species.
The Cretaceous-Paleogene was one of the largest extinction events. It indicated the end of the Mesozoic era and the Cretaceous period, and ushered in the Cenozoic era. A massive comet or asteroid impact on the earth is widely accepted to cause this mass extinction.
Similar Animals to the Styracosaurus
During the last Cretaceous period, the Styracosaurus wasn’t the only horned dinosaur that roamed the Earth. There was also:
- Centrosaurus: Just like the Styracosaurus, they are a genus of herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous period. Centrosaurus aperture was one of its species.
- Avaceratops: They were herbivorous and lived in the late Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous Period. Their fossils came from the Judith River Formation.
- Einosaurus: A medium-sized ancient ceratopsian dinosaur. Its name means “buffalo lizard.” It was found in the Upper Cretaceous group of Northwestern Montana.
- Triceratops: They had three horns—two long horns above the eyes and one on their nose. They were the real threat during their time. They existed in the late Maastrichtian stage of the Late Cretaceous Period.
The Styracosaurus was an herbivore and was classified as a centrosaurine dinosaur. If the Styracosaurus were a carnivore, it would have undoubtedly been the apex predator of its food chain. Its 2 foot long nasal horn was its most unique feature. It would have been enough to impale any of its prey. However, as an herbivore, when it came to defense, it was a threat to its predators as well.
If you enjoy reads like this and want to learn more about ancient animals, here are more posts to satisfy your curiosity:
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How smart is the Styracosaurus?
The Styracosaurus wasn’t so bright. It had a small brain, but what it lacked in cognitive ability, it gained as horn and neck frill.
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