New Evidence Suggests Triceratops Never Existed. That Sound You Hear Is Imagination Dying.

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Dinosaurs sure do make news a lot, given that they’re extinct and all. Much of the time, it’s because scientists — or little kids — have discovered a new species or additional evidence to support theories for their extinction. But sometimes, instead of giving, science takes away.

No, I’m not talking about a cataclysmic meteor. I’m talking about the recent revelation that triceratops never existed. John Scannella and Jack Horner of Researchers at Montana’s Museum of the Rockies believe that what we previously identified as Triceratops were actually young Torosaurus.



This debate isn’t a new one. In fact, the same researchers from the Museum of the Rockies published a paper in 2010 arguing that the Torosaurus was a mature Triceratops. They even suggested that yet another dinosaur, the Nedoceratops, was actually the same species but in the middle, age-wise, like a teenager. Their paper fueled backlash and a spate of publications by scientists challenging their conclusions. One scientist insisted that Nedoceratops is its own species, while other scientists who compared 35 Triceratops and Torosaurus skulls believed the two to be distinct.

The two species are undeniably similar — they each have three horns and a bony ridge (kind of like a Minbari). But the horns and ridge have different shapes, with the latter being thinner and smoother, according to Scannella and Horner. The Torosaurus also has two holes on its head.

Torosaurus v. Triceratops  us

Torosaurus v. Triceratops

While all scientists concede the likeness between the two, the holdouts — should we call them separatists? — believe that the ridge makes all the difference. The bony extensions on the ridge, called epiparietals, to be exact. Those who disagree with Scannella and Horner argue that Triceratops had five or six epiparietals, while Torosaurus had twice as many, and that there’s no evidence to suggest the number of epiparietals would increase over time.

Scannella and Horner recently followed up their initial findings by studying Triceratops skulls and discovered thinning bone where the Torosaurus skull holes appear. They then counted the bones’ growth rings and concluded that all of the skulls they were looking at were from young dinosaurs. And it just so happens that there are no young Torosaurus skeletons or specimens found anywhere. Scannella explains that the horns, ridge, and skull would remain relatively soft and undergo changes well into the dinosaurs’ adulthood. “Even in the most mature specimens that we’ve examined, there is evidence that the skull was still undergoing dramatic changes at the time of death,” Scannella said. They also believe that, instead of functioning as armor, the ridge indicated maturity.

Torosaurus skeleton

Torosaurus skeleton

Of course, there’s a response to that too. In 1890, Yale University collected a specimen of a Torosaurus that some scientists maintain was both young and inarguably a Torosaurus. Scannella disagrees, saying that the specimen was older, and that studying Triceratops skulls makes more sense given how many more are available.

They can debate all they want, but the Torosaurus will fade into extinction, reclassified as Triceratops. That, I think we can all agree, is a name we should keep around.


  1. overunity says:

    This entire article made so much better for me.. just due to the Babylon5 reference. thx!!

  2. CantheyDivide says:

    Sorry, I didn’t read the entire article; mostly just the first paragraph. But if you wish to no more on the subject research – allometric cranial ontogeny – which looks into the relative skull growth (as the name suggests) to debunk dinosaurs that are just redundantly named.

  3. Frank Humungus says:

    “They can debate all they want, but the Torosaurus will fade into
    extinction, reclassified as Triceratops. That, I think we can all agree,
    is a name we should keep around.”
    Tell that to the brontosaurus.

  4. Ritchie says:

    First Pluto, now this 🙁

  5. Freehawk says:

    Allometric cranial ontogeny – now THERE’S a name I have not
    heard in a long, long time.

  6. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. says:

    Why are you posting this now? There is no new relevant information here: when a new paper comes out would be the time to do this. In the meantime, your grossly inaccurate headline is forcing those of us who do dinos for a living to have to debunk it right, left, and center on social media.

    Please: think about us working scientists before posting an article! 🙂

    • Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. says:

      Just to remind everyone: Triceratops was named first, so by the taxonomic Principle of Priority it is the name we would use should it and Torosaurus prove to be the same animal. The name “Triceratops” stays no matter what!

  7. beachhead06 says:

    pretty soon even dinosaurs won’t have existed and there all just actually big hippo’s.

  8. Justin J. Petersen says:

    Misleading headline and terribly outdated information. Triceratops did exist. You can see its fossils in museums around the world. The fact that someone else once attributed a second name (torosaurus) to the animal does not diminish its existence. If I find a lost dog and call him Scruffy, then later meet the owner and discover the dog’s name is really Spot, I can’t declare that the dog never existed; I just had the wrong name.

    Secondly, Horner & Co.’s evidence that the two species are one and the same is sketchy at best. This topic is debated and his assessment is not the general consensus in the scientific community. It is likely triceratops and torosaurus were two different — but closely related — species. But in either case, the dinosaur known as triceratops did in fact exist.

  9. Declan says:

    The science is sound, please watch this Ted talk by the Paleontologist Jack Horner if you’re not convinced.


    • Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. says:

      I am actually not opposed to Horner’s idea, but you should take into account some of the counter arguments. The following video shows Horner on one position, and Nick Longrich on the other, presenting their evidence. In my opinion, it is not resolved either way yet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTVpo3grXMY

  10. Largenton says:

    As Triceratops was discovered first, if this is true, the Torosaurus will be reclassified. Rule of classification is that the oldest name is used.

  11. Jack Horner is a joke. says:

    Jack Horner is a hack. Seriously. The guy has been pulling this crap for 20+ years. First he decided that T-Rex was exclusivley a scavenger and got all of these TV specials and even Steven Spielburg to buy into that… until EVERY OTHER PALEONTOLOGIST ON THE PLANET proved him wrong with fossil evidence of such things as herbivore bones with healed T-Rex bite marks (if the T-Rex bite healed the animal was alive when bitten meaning that, yes, T-Rex hunted live prey). Then he was trying to say that a group of “bonehead” dinosaurs, were all the same species just at different ages (sound familiar?) which almost sounded credible until once agan; all other paleontologists said, “No.” Now, the same thing. The guy is a publicity artist more interested in getting his name in the books (or rather on the tele) for making some crazy discovery than in actually getting the science right. The PT Barnum of scientists. A hack.