Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The Triceratops, first discovered in 1889, has an identity crisis, scientists said.
What was thought to be three separate dinosaurs have now been reclassified as one, the horned-face Triceratops, according to a paper today in the journal PLoS One. The two other dinosaurs, called Torosaurus and Nedoceratops, were found to be older versions of the beast, which grew to about 25-feet-long and weighed an estimated six tons, researchers said.
“We have just begun to learn how it grew from a baby to an adult in the past few years,” said John Scannella, a researcher at Montana State University in Bozeman and a study author.
The reclassified dinosaurs were both thought to be members of species distinct from the Triceratops, which despite its fearsome appearance was a plant-eater that lived about 65 million to 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.
As more Triceratops bones were found, though, scientists began to suspect the structure of their skulls probably changed as they aged, Scannella said. They confirmed the idea by cutting up skulls from all three types, lining up the features and determining that all the different skulls came from Triceratops of different ages.
“We can’t hatch a living Triceratops and watch it grow up and study how its skull changes shape -- but this is the next best thing,” Scannella said in an e-mail.
--Editors: Reg Gale, Bruce Rule
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