Protoceratops

Name: Protoceratops ‭(‬First horned face‭)‬.
Phonetic: Pro-toe-seh-rah-tops.
Named By: Walter W.‭ ‬Granger‭ & ‬William King Gregory‭ ‬-‭ ‬1923.
Classification: Chordata,‭ ‬Reptilia,‭ ‬Dinosauria,‭ ‬Ornithischia,‭ ‬Cerapoda,‭ ‬Ceratopsia,‭ ‬Protoceratopsidae.
Species: P.‭ ‬andrewsi‭ (‬type‭)‬,‭ ‬P.‭ ‬hellenikorhinus.
Type: Herbivore.
Size: Average about ‬1.8‭ ‬meters long up to 2 meters long for largest individuals.
Known locations: China.‭ ‬Mongolia.
Time period: Campanian of the Cretaceous.
Fossil representation: Multiple individuals are known,‭ ‬allowing for accurate reconstruction.

       When first discovered,‭ ‬Protoceratops was heralded as the ancestor to the massive North American ceratopsian dinosaurs such as Triceratops.‭ ‬However with the advent of new and continuing studies of the group,‭ ‬Protoceratops is now‭ ‬considered to be more representative of the type of dinosaur that led to the larger North American species as opposed to being‭ '‬the‭' ‬ancestor of them.
       Protoceratops is nevertheless significant in its discovery as it has revealed many fascinating insights into dinosaur life.‭ ‬The large numbers of remains found relatively close to one another is taken as evidence of herding behaviour.‭ ‬Preservation of the scleral rings indicates a cathermal lifestyle meaning that Protoceratops was active for short periods throughout the day,‭ ‬perhaps as a reaction to the arid conditions of the time.‭ ‬It would make sense to spend shorter amounts of time foraging before retreating to more sheltered areas when conditions were too intense such‭ ‬as the heat associated with midday.
       The head of Protoceratops appears to be oversized when seen in relation to its body,‭ ‬and this housed a large cropping beak at the front,‭ ‬the extra size maybe to make use of more powerful jaw muscles allowing the beak to slice through tough vegetation.‭ ‬Inside its mouth,‭ ‬several dozen teeth worked to grind the plant material,‭ ‬allowing for more effective digestion.
       Although Protoceratops did not have the elaborate horns that were typical of some ceratopsian dinosaurs,‭ ‬it still possessed a frill that covered its neck.‭ ‬It also had two greatly enlarged jugal bones,‭ ‬but there is a great amount of variation in size and shape of both these and the frill between individuals.‭ ‬Explanations for these variations include possible indications of age,‭ ‬with older animals having larger projections,‭ ‬to maybe even signs of sexual dimorphism,‭ ‬with males having larger frill and jugals for display purposes.
       However,‭ ‬Protoceratops remains have also proved to be a bit of a‭ '‬Red Herring‭' ‬on occasion.‭ ‬When the first dinosaur eggs were discovered in the Gobi Desert,‭ ‬the large number of Protoceratops remains in the area was taken as indicative that these eggs belonged to them.‭ ‬However a specimen of Oviraptor was also discovered with them,‭ ‬and since its skull was crushed,‭ ‬it was presumed that the Oviraptor had been killed by a Protoceratops that had been defending the nest.
       In‭ ‬1992‭ ‬the truth of the matter was revealed when a new study by Mark Norrel et al on a presumed Protoceratops egg revealed the presence of an Oviraptor embryo.‭ ‬This immediately flipped the scenario upside down as the eggs were now confirmed to belong to an Oviraptor,‭ ‬not a Protoceratops as had been thought for roughly seventy years.
       If the Oviraptor had indeed been killed by a Protoceratops,‭ ‬then the scenario may be along the lines of a Protoceratops stumbling upon an Oviraptor nest and startling the brooding parent.‭ ‬The Oviraptor,‭ ‬only thinking of defending its nest immediately begins a threat display,‭ ‬maybe even an attack on the Protoceratops,‭ ‬which in turn perceiving the Oviraptor as a threat to itself,‭ ‬manages to crush its skull in its beak.
       The most famous fossil of a Protoceratops is the‭ '‬Fighting Dinosaurs‭' ‬specimen which features an individual Protoceratops locked in combat with a Velociraptor.‭ ‬Here the Protoceratops can be seen to have the right forearm of the Velociraptor trapped in its powerful beak,‭ ‬while the Velociraptor seems to have one of its killing claws lunged into where the Protoceratops would have had its throat exposed.‭ ‬Both animals are believed to have been killed by a sudden event such as a landslide which entombed them both during combat.‭


Further reading
- Protoceratops andrewsi, a pre-ceratopsian dinosaur from Mongolia, with an appendix on the structural relationships of the Protoceratops beds - American Museum Novitates 72:1-9 - W. Granger & W. K. Gregory - 1923.
- On Protoceratops, a primitive ceratopsian dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Mongolia - American Museum Novitates 156:1-9 - W. K. Gregory & C. C. Mook - 1925.
- Protoceratopsidae (Dinosauria) of Asia - Palaeontologica Polonica 33:133-181 - T. Maryanska & H. Osmolska - 1975.
- Quantitative aspects of relative growth and sexual dimorphism in Protoceratops - Journal of Paleontology 50: 929–940 - P. Dodson - 1976.
- A new species of Protoceratops (Dinosauria, Neoceratopsia) from the Late Cretaceous of Inner Mongolia (P. R. China) - Bulletin de l'Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Science de la Terre: 5–28. - O. Lambert, P. Godfroit, H. Li, C. -Y. Shang & Z. -M. Dong - 2001.
- The Function of Large Eyes in Protoceratops: A Nocturnal Ceratopsian? - N. Longrich - 2010. In: Michael J. Ryan, Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier, and David A. Eberth (eds), New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium, Indiana University Press, 656 pp
- Nocturnality in Dinosaurs Inferred from Scleral Ring and Orbit Morphology - Science 332 - L. Schmitz & R. Motani.





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