Whats the Point? main content.

Whats the Point?

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

 © J. Sibbick



These dinosaurs, called ceratopsians, were slow-moving plant eaters that probably lived together in large herds--hardly the kind of animals you'd associate with deadly conflict. For many years, paleontologists thought these animals used their horns and spikes to fight predators like T. rex. The huge bony collars, or frills, around the animals' heads seemed to protect their necks. But upon closer examination, the frills are typically too thin to provide much protection. And among modern animals from beetles to bison, horns are almost always used to attract mates, compete with rivals or allow animals of the same species to recognize each other. In much the same way, the elaborate skulls of the horned dinosaurs may have been for display, not defense.

© Doug Henderson



A New View

Recent analysis of fossils and comparisons with modern animals suggest that ceratopsian dinosaurs may have used their horns, spikes and frills in competition for mates. For example, male Triceratops competing for females may have locked horns much like African antelope do, pushing each other back and forth until one male surrendered.