All About the Pentaceratops: The Five-Horned Dinosaur


Photo: MR1805 via Getty Images

 

The Pentaceratops was a herbivorous dinosaur with three horns on its head. A lot of sources call it the "three-horned face" because when people start learning about this species that is often what they think it refers to. However, in reality, the name Pentaceratops means "five-horned face". The reason for this discrepancy in the name is that paleontologists originally thought that the third horn on the dinosaur's head was a brow horn. However, after many years of study, it has been found that the "third horn" was actually one of the Pentaceratops horns growing out behind its nostrils, not in front of them as they had previously thought.

Let's learn more about the Pentaceratops, the acclaimed five-horned lizard of the dinosaur period!

Description and Appearance

Photo: MR1805 via Getty Images

 

The Pentaceratops is a member of the Ceratopsoidea superfamily, which also includes other well-known horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops and Kosmoceratops. However, when they were originally studying the "three-horned face," paleontologists believed that the Pentaceratops was part of an entirely different family, called Agriochoeridae. This family is now known as a close relative to the Ceratopsoidea superfamily because it and its species were descended from ceratopsians and closely related to them.

The Pentaceratops was a medium-sized dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period. However, its fossils are quite rare because they lived in North America, which is now covered with sandstone and shale. When paleontologists uncovered the first specimen of the Pentaceratops, they mistook it for an entirely new species, which is why they called it the "three-horned face." The Pentaceratops was about 30 feet long, or about as large as a modern-day rhinoceros.

The horns of the Pentaceratops were its most distinct feature. Although these horns are what led paleontologists to incorrectly identify the dinosaur when they first found it, they were also what led them to correctly identify the species as a Pentaceratops and not a new species. The horns on the head of the Pentaceratops were long and "leaf-shaped." That means that they look like leaves with all the little ridges and valleys.

The horns of this dinosaur grew continuously throughout its lifetime, just like horns on modern-day animals such as cattle and goats. They grew out of the skin and were not attached to any sort of bony core. The shape of their horns may have helped them attract mates and fight off predators, but it is possible that they grew for another purpose such as attracting a mate or scaring off a predator.

Though the five-horned Pentaceratops was well known for its horns, it also had several other distinct features that help paleontologists figure out what kind of dinosaur it was. For example, this animal had large eyes that faced to the sides instead of forward like human eyes. This means that when the Pentaceratops was looking straight ahead it would not have binocular vision like most predators of its time. Since it had two of its eyes on the sides of its head, though, the Pentaceratops could've used some more unusual senses, such as hearing and smell.

Tooth wear patterns show that this dinosaur mainly ate vegetation found close to the ground and in swamps. If you want, it could also eat dust bunnies below your bed. Gage Beasley’s Lifelike Pentaceratops Dinosaur Stuffed Plush Toy could do just that!

Gage Beasley’s Lifelike Pentaceratops Dinosaur Stuffed Plush Toy

Diet

Based on the tooth wear patterns of Pentaceratops specimens, paleontologists believe that this dinosaur mainly ate low-lying vegetation and plants found in swamps. It would've used its long, flat teeth to pluck and slice at tall and short ferns and tiny cycads. Another thing that this herbivore might have eaten on occasion is horsetails. These prehistoric plants had large roots that were filled with nutrients and could have been the main food source for some dinosaurs during the late Cretaceous period.

Reproduction

The Pentaceratops did not lay eggs like some dinosaurs, though. Instead, female members of this species gave live birth to new young ones after they developed in their bodies for several months. This is why some paleontologists believe the horns of the Pentaceratops were used more for fighting off predators than attracting mates or defending territory. It is thought that during the late Cretaceous period, young Pentaceratops were mainly cared for by their mothers.

Distribution

Pentaceratops lived during the late Cretaceous period in what is now North America. They likely lived in these areas along with many other horned dinosaurs, such as Kosmoceratops and Triceratops. The reason that so many ceratopsoids roamed together was probably due to the fact that their food sources were quite scarce during this period. So, it became a more efficient hunting strategy for multiple herbivores to come together and share resources.

Pentaceratops lived in grassy plains and possibly rocky uplands as well. Since they tended to eat low-lying vegetation, they probably preferred these types of habitats.

In the Late Cretaceous Period, North America was quite different from how it is now. Instead of being a large landmass with an abundance of trees and grasses as well as swamps and bays, it was a flat, arid expanse that got very little rainfall. As one might imagine, this change in climate and habitat would've been difficult for many animals, including the Pentaceratops.

Discovery

Photo: MR1805 via Getty Images

 

The first Pentaceratops fossil, a partial skull, was discovered in 1891 by John Bell Hatcher. This specimen was found in Wyoming, which is where many other fossils of this species have been uncovered as well. This is why some paleontologists believe that Pentaceratops bones are very easy to find in this region, which may be an important reason why so much scientific information about them has been discovered.

There have been many other discoveries of related ceratopsoid fossils throughout the United States as well, including ones in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Other Pentaceratops specimens have also been found in Canada and some parts of Asia where the climate was more similar to that of North America during the late Cretaceous period.

Final Thoughts

Paleontologists believe that this dinosaur mainly ate low-lying vegetation and plants found in swamps. It would've used its long, flat teeth to pluck and slice at ferns and cycads. During the late Cretaceous period, young Pentaceratops were mainly cared for by their mothers. The Pentaceratops did not lay eggs like some dinosaurs, though. Instead, female members of this species gave live birth to new young ones after they developed in their bodies for several months. This is why some paleontologists believe the horns of the Pentaceratops were used more for fighting off predators than attracting mates or defending territory. It is thought that during the late Cretaceous period, young Pentaceratops were mainly cared for by their mothers.

The long horns on the skull of this dinosaur may have been used to attract mates or fight off predators such as Gorgosaurus.

Pentaceratops lived in grassy plains and possibly rocky uplands as well. Since they tended to eat low-lying vegetation, they probably preferred these types of habitats.

While the Pentaceratops was a large and formidable dinosaur, it is now extinct. There are still many things that we don't know about this prehistoric creature and hopefully, as more fossils and information about it are discovered our knowledge of these animals will become more complete.

Cheers!

~GB


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