Friday, October 30, 2009

Fossil Fact #10!!!!!!!

Due to the load of so much on my plate, I'm afraid I'm going to have to speed right through this Fact, if I want to meet my personal deadlines, so let's begin!!!

The Ceratopsians- Horned Champions of the Cretaceous

Possibly the most famous of all the armored herbiverous dinosaurs on Earth, the Ceratopsians were, indeed, some of the most successful and lasting on our childhoods hearts. However, I'm going to cover as best I can and as hastily as I can if I am going to squeeze in two Facts today, with some of the latest research.

What is a Ceratopsian?

As simple as this may sound to most of my "older" readers (by "older," I mean those who have been with me since I started this blog.), there are still a number of folks who may know what they are but, simultaneously not know what they are, if you follow me. Everyone's familiar with them, if they are not familiar with term, like Triceratops, Torosaurus, Styracosaurus, etc. The term "Ceratopsian" is a variation of the scientific family name "Ceratopsida," which means, ironically, "Horned Face." This group has been an obvious success so I doubt I will cover into too much depth into their evolution, as, honestly, I'm completely clear on.

The Ceratopsians were known for their unusually thick and gragantuan "frills" that provided protection for the major arteries in the neck, and held an impressive armory of weapons on the some of the well-known, larger Cretaceous taxa, Triceratops horridus, Torosaurus, and their kin. Though not all had the impressive assortment of weaponry, some had frills whose sheer glance would make any intelligent theropod re-think it's position or just high-tail it out of there!

Ceratopsian Behavior:

Thankfully I need not repeat myself when I discuss behavior from the Fossil Record. This is more of an abstract concept and requires more imagination as, well, people have conflicting views when they literrally look at the same thing. Prior to Paleontologists like Dr. Robert T. Bakker, and Dr. John "Jack" R. Horner, the view of the Dinosauria were big, dumb, lizards. Yet, universally, we see them as living animals with as much an ability to survive as any animal today, if not better. The Ceratopsians were, in my opinion, pretty docile, and would only attack when threatened, as any other animal.  Other than that, very little canbe gained from their remains, no matter how complete, which leads into the next section of this Fact: Anatomy.

A Quick Over-View Of Ceratopsian Anatomy:

Other than being Ornithischians ("bird-hipped," Pronounced, ORN-ITH-SCK-IANS), these herbivores are known for their massive frills. Sadly, new research shows that structurally, these frills' primary function was display, and then defense. I'm not saying that defense wouldn't have been an option, I mean, if display were the primary and ONLY function, then evolution wouldn't have needed a large head crest to show off as other animals do. The ONLY ceratopsian species whose frill is solid bone, was the infamous Triceratops horridus. As stated, if the frills were used for defense only, then evolution would have standardized the design, unless, it was as equipped as necessary to handle the perils and predators of it's particular ecosystem (i.e. The sheep-sized Protoceratops of Cretaceous Mongolia doesn't need to be as well-equipped as the North American Triceratops or Torosaurus.

New research by Dr. Horner of Montana and his colleague, whose name escapes me for the moment, was published in the article in PLos One on the growth of Triceratops horridus and Pachycephalosaurus. According to them, the different taxa for these families were actually growth stages of well-known taxa (i.e. Dracorex hogwartsia, and Stygimoloch were actually growth stages of Pachycephalosaurus, respectively.). As farfetched as this may seem, it seems an even larger changed when it came to the Triceratops. However, no information on the differences in the sexes has been found, even with the detailed studies.

That about wraps up this quick Fact, and I'm sorry if the quality wasn't as expected, but if I wanted to fulfill my ambitions, some sacrifices had to be made. :( Again, sorry, readers.

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