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Bones...and Beyond

How much weight could a young Protoceratops gain in a decade? Ten years ago, no one imagined asking that question. But scientists studying the inner structure of fossil bone can now give us an answer--a hefty 13.2 kilograms (about 30 pounds) a year.

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© John Horner, Museum of the Rockies

Thin section of dino bone.

Fossil bone is a code that records an animal's biology in microscopic detail; cracking that code will be among the greatest challenges of 21st-century paleontology. When scientists can pinpoint the age of a specimen--for example, whether it was two or ten years old when it died--they'll be a long way toward knowing its life history. And comparing life histories across species may reveal how different groups are related.

Does that mean that growth charts for young dinosaurs will soon hang in paleontology labs, the way height and weight charts for young humans hang in doctor's offices? New fossils are turning up every day, so stay tuned!

Fast Facts: Protoceratopsians
  • Pronunciation: "pro-to-ser-uh-TOPS-see-uns"
  • Size: N/A this a variable group
  • Food: plants
  • When they lived: 80-85 million years ago
  • Fun fact: The teeth of one protoceratopsian embryo show tooth wear; does this mean the tiny animal ground its teeth while in its shell?
protoceratops_juvenile.jpg

© AMNH

Juvenile Protoceratops.

Big for Its Age

While the bony frill of this juvenile is small, it is as large--relative to the animal's size--as the adult frill of a primitive relative, Psittacosaurus. This pattern, in which juveniles display adult traits of a related but more primitive species, helps explain how the great physical diversity of some dinosaur groups evolved.

Fast Facts: Protoceratopsians

Fun Fact: Protoceratopsian frills often featured large holes; other groups had solid frills.

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