10 Facts About Styracosaurus

A North American Ceratopsian Dinosaur

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How Much Do You Know About Styracosaurus?

Jura Park

Styracosaurus, the "spiked lizard," had one of the most impressive head displays of any genus of ceratopsian (horned, frilled dinosaur). Get to know this fascinating relative of Triceratops.

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Styracosaurus Had an Elaborate Combination of Frill and Horns



Styracosaurus had one of the most distinctive skulls of any ceratopsian (horned, frilled dinosaur), including an extra-long frill studded with four to six horns, a single, two-foot-long horn protruding from its nose, and shorter horns jutting out from each of its cheeks. All of this ornamentation (with the possible exception of the frill) was probably sexually selected: that is, males with more elaborate head displays stood a better chance of pairing up with available females during mating season.

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A Full-Grown Styracosaurus Weighed About Three Tons

Wikimedia Commons

Styracosaurus (Greek for "pointed lizard") was moderately sized, with adults weighing close to three tons. This made Styracosaurus small compared to the largest Triceratops and Titanoceratops individuals, but much bigger than its ancestors that lived tens of millions of years before. Like other horned, frilled dinosaurs, the build of Styracosaurus roughly resembled that of a modern elephant or rhinoceros, the most notable parallels being its bloated trunk and thick, squat legs capped with enormous feet.

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Styracosaurus Is Classified as a Centrosaurine Dinosaur

Centrosaurus, to which Styracosaurus was closely related. Sergey Krasovskiy

A wide assortment of horned, frilled dinosaurs roamed the plains and woodlands of late Cretaceous North America, making their precise classification a bit of a challenge. As far as paleontologists can tell, Styracosaurus was closely related to Centrosaurus, and is thus classified as a "centrosaurine" dinosaur. (The other major family of ceratopsians was the "chasmosaurines", which included Pentaceratops, Utahceratops and the most famous ceratopsian of them all, Triceratops.)

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Styracosaurus Was Discovered in Canada's Alberta Province

The excavation of the type fossil of Styracosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

The type fossil of Styracosaurus was discovered in Canada's Alberta province and was named in 1913 by the Canadian paleontologist Lawrence Lambe. However, it was up to Barnum Brown, working for the American Museum of Natural History, to unearth the first near-complete Styracosaurus fossil in 1915—not in Dinosaur Provincial Park, but the nearby Dinosaur Park Formation. This was initially described as a second Styracosaurus species, S. parksi, and later synonymized with the type species, S. albertensis.

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Styracosaurus Probably Traveled in Herds


Dellex/WIkimedia Commons


The ceratopsians of the late Cretaceous period were almost certainly herd animals, as can be inferred from the discovery of "bonebeds" containing the remains of hundreds of individuals. The herd behavior of Styracosaurus can be further deduced from its elaborate head display, which may have served as an intra-herd recognition and signaling device (for example, perhaps the frill of a Styracosaurus herd alpha flashed pink, swollen with blood, in the presence of lurking tyrannosaurs).

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Styracosaurus Subsisted on Palms, Ferns and Cycads

A fossilized cycad. Wikimedia Commons

Because grass had yet to evolve in the late Cretaceous period, plant-eating dinosaurs had to content themselves with a buffet of thick-growing vegetation, including palms, ferns, and cycads. In the case of Styracosaurus and other ceratopsians, we can infer their diets from the shape and arrangement of their teeth, which were suited to intensive grinding. It's also likely, though not proven, that Styracosaurus swallowed small stones (known as gastroliths) to help grind down tough plant matter in its massive gut.

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The Frill of Styracosaurus Had Multiple Functions

American Museum of Natural History

Aside from its use as a sexual display and as an intra-herd signaling device, the possibility exists that the frill of Styracosaurus helped to regulate this dinosaur's body temperature--that is, it soaked up sunlight during the day and dissipated it slowly at night. The frill may also have come in handy for intimidating hungry raptors and tyrannosaurs, who might be fooled by the sheer size of Styracosaurus' head and frill into thinking they were dealing with a truly enormous dinosaur.

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One Styracosaurus Bonebed Was Lost for Nearly 100 Years

American Museum of Natural History

You'd think it would be hard to misplace a dinosaur as big as Styracosaurus, or the fossil deposits in which it was discovered. Yet that's exactly what happened after Barnum Brown excavated S. parksi. So frenetic was his fossil-hunting itinerary that Brown subsequently lost track of the original site, and it was up to Darren Tanke to rediscover it in 2006. (It was this later expedition that led to S. parksi being lumped in with the Styracosaurus type species, S. albertensis.)

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Styracosaurus Shared its Territory with Albertosaurus

Albertosaurus. Royal Tyrrell Museum

Styracosaurus lived at roughly the same time (75 million years ago) as the fierce tyrannosaur Albertosaurus. However, a full-grown, three-ton Styracosaurus adult would have been virtually immune to predation, which is why Albertosaurus and other meat-eating tyrannosaurs and raptors concentrated on newborns, juveniles and aged individuals, picking them off from slow-moving herds the same way contemporary lions do with wildebeests.

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Styracosaurus Was an Ancestor of Einiosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus

Einiosaurus, a descendant of Styracosaurus. Sergey Krasovskiy

Since Styracosaurus lived a full ten million years before the K/T Extinction, there was plenty of time for various populations to spawn new genera of ceratopsians. It's widely believed that the ornately equipped Einiosaurus ("buffalo lizard") and Pachyrhinosaurus ("thick-nosed lizard") of late Cretaceous North America were direct descendants of Styracosaurus, though as with all matters of ceratopsian classification, we'd need more conclusive fossil evidence to say for sure.

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Strauss, Bob. "10 Facts About Styracosaurus." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-styracosaurus-1093800. Strauss, Bob. (2023, April 5). 10 Facts About Styracosaurus. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-styracosaurus-1093800 Strauss, Bob. "10 Facts About Styracosaurus." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-styracosaurus-1093800 (accessed June 1, 2023).