Dinosaur of the Week – Triceratops

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There are probably two or three dinosaurs that you immediately think of upon hearing the word “Dinosaur”.  One, for sure, is the T-Rex, another might be the Brontosaurus (even though that’s an Apatosaurus, dawg.  We’ll get to that another time, don’t worry).  But perhaps the most instantly memorable dino is the Triceratops.  Known for it’s three horns and hard bony shell atop it’s head (it’s name literally translates to “three horned face”), Triceratops makes a great case for being so damn popular.

First discovered near Denver, Colorado in 1887 (although at that time, it was just a few spikes that the paleontologists at the time had no idea belonged to this new classification of dinosaur), the Triceratops was indigenous to what is now North America.  Fossils have been found in Colorado, the Dakotas, Montana and parts of Canada.  There are two verified species of Triceratops that have been discovered (T. horridus and T. prorsus), although dozens of other specimens have been unearthed over the last 130 years.  Triceratops is unique in that its one of the few dinosaurs that has verified fossils of almost every life stage from birth to adulthood.

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While on the topic of stages of the Triceratops’ life, it was recently reported though fossil evidence that Triceratops could be a younger-still version of a similar ceratopsid (horned dinosaur) Torosaurus.  I don’t buy it, seeing as the skulls don’t really seem to indicate that the two were that similar, but paleontologists are continuing to study this finding, and hopefully soon we will have a strong enough hypothesis one way or the other.

Top: Triceratops skull fossil. Bottom: Torosaurus skull fossil.
Top: Triceratops skull fossil.
Bottom: Torosaurus skull fossil.

In pop culture, the Triceratops shows up EVERYWHERE.  One of the earliest dinosaur scenes in the first Jurassic Park featured a sick Triceratops.  Animated films like We’re Back and The Land Before Time series both featured Triceratops’ in a major role.  Earl’s boss from the 90’s sitcom Dinosaurs, B.P. Richfield, was a Triceratops.  Basically, if you are making a show or a movie with dinosaurs, it’s gonna have a Triceratops.

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Perhaps the most well known facet of the Triceratops is it’s assumed rivalry with the major predator of the Late Cretaceous period, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  From movies, television or even on display at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, we’ve had this vision of T-Rex battling Triceratops ingrained in us for decades.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  They lived in the same part of the world, at the same time in history.  The largest predatory dinosaur squaring off with one of the largest and more fearsome herbivores?  Awesome.

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So, if everything we know now is to be believed, the Triceratops was one dope ass dinosaur who had a history series of classic battles with the biggest land predator of all time.  They also have become synonymous with the word “dinosaur” and have been a fixture of pop culture for 120 years. Hell, it could even turn out that in the next 5-10 years, we could learn that this wasn’t even the Triceratops’ final form, and she gets even bigger and more impressive an animal as the Torosaurus.

What a cool freaking dinosaur.

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Dinosaur of the Week – Utahraptor

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Hell yeah, Dinosaurs!

This is a new Weekly(ish) segment where I school all ya’ll on a specific type of Dinosaur!  I figured for the first segment, I’d go with what is probably my favorite Dinosaur, the Utahraptor.

You remember the really cool Velociraptors from Jurassic Park (and World)?  Well, those were PROBABLY actually closer to what would have been a Utahraptor in real life.  Velociraptors were roughly the size of a turkey, while Utahraptors were the more familiar 8-foot tall set of teeth and claws.

The different sizes of the Raptor family, with a particularly dapper human for scale.
The different sizes of the Raptor family, with a particularly dapper human for scale.

The first fossil evidence of the Utahraptor was found in 1975 in, you guessed it, Utah (near Moab).  They later found enough Utahraptor specimens to give them their official classification (Utahraptor ostrommaysorum).

What makes the Utahraptor particularly special (and thus my favorite Dinosaur) is that was essentially the biggest, toughest Raptor on record.  When you consider this species commonly hunted in packs, it makes them even more interesting.  Most large dinosaurs were theorized to have hunted alone (similarly to your biggest Sharks today), so to have such a skillful predator running around with half a dozen buddies… man, what a cool freaking dinosaur.

The Utahraptor was also the main character of one my favorite dinosaur books growing up, Raptor Red. Raptor Red worked a fictional tale from what the paleontology world was learning about the Raptors of North America in the Early to Mid 90’s. It was a book told from the point of view of the raptor, which completely changed my view of how to write Dino books (and led to about a dozen short stories and comic books I wrote growing up where the lead protagonist was a Dinosaur of some sort).  Written by famed paleontologist Robert T. Bakker (remember the paleontologist who gets eaten in the waterfall by the T. Rex in The Lost World: Jurassic Park?   That was basically Spielberg’s homage to Bakker), Raptor Red remains one of my favorite pieces of Dinosaur fiction to this day.

In short, the Utahraptor was easily one of the dopest Dinosaurs to ever exist, and is one of, like, three cool things to actually come out of the state of Utah (the others being Fry Sauce and Steve Young).

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Want to recommend a future Dinosaur of the Week?  You can either comment on this article or send me a suggestion over at Twitter (@JoshCantBlah, or @JoshCantBlog after November 1st).