My, What A Big Skull You Have

Part of the Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries exhibition.

Protoceratops model.


Protoceratops, like most ceratopsians, had a large head compared to its body. One reason ceratopsian heads were so enormous is that the skulls had bony collars, known as frills, covering the neck. Like horns and spikes, frills came in all shapes and sizes.

Paleontologists have identified more than 30 species of ceratopsian dinosaurs--and each species can be distinguished largely by features such as the shape of the frill or the number, size and position of the horns. In fact, scientists have speculated that perhaps the dinosaurs themselves relied on these features to recognize members of their own species. As a result, small changes in these features might have meant that members of the two populations would no longer mate, because they wouldn't recognize each other. Such isolation would result in the emergence of new species, each one with a distinct appearance.

Protoceratops skull.


A Frightening Frill

The skull of Protoceratops includes a large bony frill. Paleontologists think this feature was important when these dinosaurs were competing with one another for mates. The thin frill made the animal look bigger, which might have seemed more intimidating to rivals and also more attractive to members of the opposite sex.

Baby Protoceratops.


Baby Protoceratops

At a few months of age, Protoceratops was no bigger than a cat. These animals reached full size at around 20 years of age. Scientists have found fossils of Protoceratops ranging in age from infants to adults.



What Color Were Dinosaurs?

We don't know for sure, but scientists look to dinosaurs' closest relatives for clues. Birds and reptiles have sharp color vision and are often very colorful, so dinosaurs probably were too.

Fast Facts: Protoceratops

  • Pronunciation: "pro-toe-SAIR-uh-tops"
  • LENGTH: around 2 meters (7 feet)
  • HEIGHT: 1 meter (3 feet)
  • WEIGHT: 180 kilograms (400 pounds)
  • Food: plants
  • When it lived: 80-85 million years ago
  • Fun fact: Fossils of baby Protoceratops have been found together, suggesting that parents might have taken care of their young.