Interesting Facts About Protoceratops

Protoceratops Family

 

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Protoceratops was a small, inoffensive, horned and frilled dinosaur that was most famous for being on the lunch menu of the theropods of late Cretaceous central Asia, including Velociraptor.

Despite its name—Greek for "first horned face"—Protoceratops wasn't the first ceratopsian, the family of herbivorous dinosaurs characterized, for the most part, by their elaborate frills and multiple horns. (That honor goes to much earlier, cat-sized genera like Psittacosaurus and Chaoyangsaurus.) Adding insult to injury, Protoceratops didn't even possess any horns worth speaking of, unless you count the slightly sharpened points of its modest frill.

In the following slideshow, you'll discover more fascinating Protoceratops facts.

01
of 09

Protoceratops Was Smaller Than Later Ceratopsians

Protoceratops

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People tend to picture Protoceratops as being much bigger than it was: this dinosaur only measured about six feet from head to tail and weighed in the neighborhood of 400 pounds, about the size of a modern hog. In other words, Protoceratops was a mere flyspeck compared to multi-ton horned, frilled dinosaurs of the later Cretaceous period, like Triceratops and Styracosaurus.

02
of 09

Protoceratops Was on Velociraptor's Dinner Menu

Velociraptor Attack
A Velociraptor mongoliensis attacks a Protoceratops andrewsi.

Yuriy Priymak/Stocktrek Images 

In 1971, dinosaur hunters in Mongolia made a stunning find: a specimen of Velociraptor caught in the act of attacking an equally sized Protoceratops. A sudden sandstorm buried these dinosaurs in the middle of their life-and-death struggle, and to judge by the fossil evidence, it's by no means clear that Velociraptor was about to emerge as the victor. 

03
of 09

Protoceratops Shared its Habitat with Oviraptor

Oviraptor
Oviraptor eating Protoceratops's eggs.

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When the type fossil of Oviraptor was unearthed, in 1923, it was sitting atop a clutch of fossilized eggs—prompting the theory that it had just raided a Protoceratops nest. While Oviraptor and Protoceratops did coexist in late Cretaceous central Asia, it turns out that this supposed "egg thief" got a bad rap—it was actually fossilized sitting on a clutch of its eggs and was forever branded as a criminal for merely being a responsible parent.

04
of 09

Male Protoceratops Were Bigger than Females

Protoceratops Growth Series

HARRY NGUYEN/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 

Protoceratops is one of the few dinosaurs to show evidence of sexual dimorphism, that is, differences in size and anatomy between males and females. Some paleontologists believe male Protoceratops possessed larger, more elaborate frills, which they used to impress females during mating season, but the evidence doesn't convince everyone—and in any event, even the frill of an alpha male Protoceratops' wouldn't have looked all that impressive.

05
of 09

Roy Chapman Andrews Discovered Protoceratops

Roy Chapman Andrews
Roy Chapman Andrews discovered protoceratops.

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In 1922, the famous fossil hunter Roy Chapman Andrews, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, led a well-publicized expedition to Mongolia, then one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth. The trip was a smashing success: not only did Andrews unearth the petrified remains of Protoceratops, but he also discovered Velociraptor, Oviraptor and another ancestral ceratopsian, Psittacosaurus.

06
of 09

Protoceratops May Have Been the Origin of the Griffin Myth

The Griffon

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The first written accounts of the Griffin—a mythical beast with the body of a lion and the wings and front legs of an eagle—appeared in Greece in the 7th century B.C. One historian of science believes that Greek writers were elaborating on accounts by Scythian nomads, who came across fossilized Protoceratops skeletons in the Gobi Desert. It's an intriguing theory, but needless to say, it rests on some very circumstantial evidence!

07
of 09

Protoceratops Was One of the Last Asian Ceratopsians

Velociraptor Attack

Mark Stevenson/Stocktrek Images 

Ceratopsians followed a unique evolutionary trajectory during the Mesozoic Era: the earliest, dog-sized genera evolved in late Jurassic Asia, and by the end of the Cretaceous period, they had vastly increased in size and been restricted to North America. The intermediate-sized Protoceratops, which preceded these famous North American ceratopsians by 10 million years, was likely one of the last horned, frilled dinosaurs to be entirely indigenous to Asia.

08
of 09

For its Size, Protoceratops Had Very Strong Jaws

Protoceratops

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The most intimidating features of the otherwise gentle Protoceratops were its teeth, beak, and jaws, which this dinosaur used to clip, tear and chew the tough vegetation of its arid and unforgiving central Asian habitat.

To accommodate this dental equipment, the skull of Protoceratops was almost comically large compared to the rest of its body, giving it a distinctly disproportionate, "top-heavy" profile that calls to mind a modern warthog.

09
of 09

Protoceratops Probably Congregated in Herds

Herd of Protoceratops

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Whenever paleontologists discover multiple individuals of a given dinosaur in any one location, the most logical conclusion is that this animal roamed in packs or herds. Given its pig-like proportions and relative lack of defensive capabilities, it's likely that Protoceratops traveled in herds of hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of individuals, to keep safe from the hungry raptors and "oviraptorosaurs" of its central Asian habitat.