Fossil range: Late Cretaceous
| Scientific classification
Ceratops (meaning "horn face") was a ceratopsian dinosaur which lived during the Late Cretaceous. Its fossils have been found in Montana and Alberta, Canada. Although poorly known, Ceratops is important in the history of dinosaurs, since it is the type species upon which both Ceratopsia and Ceratopsidae are based. Unfortunately, the material is too poor to be diagnostic and Ceratops is considered a nomen dubium. More complete material recently found in Colorado may enable Ceratops to be reexamined (Trexler & Sweeney, 1995).
The first remains referred to Ceratops (an occipital condyle and a pair of horn cores) were found by John Bell Hatcher (1861-1904) in the summer of 1888 in the Judith River Formation of Montana. O. C. Marsh originally believed the animal to be similar to Stegosaurus, but with two horns on its head.
Ceratops belonged to the Ceratopsia (the name is Ancient Greek for "horned face"), a group of herbivorous dinosaurs with parrot-like beaks which thrived in North America and Asia during the Cretaceous Period, which ended roughly 65 million years ago. It is the first named member of the subfamily popularly known as Chasmosaurinae which has been renamed Ceratopsinae under ICZN rules.
In 1999, Penkalski and Dodson concluded Ceratops is a nomen dubium because the material is too meager. They add that Avaceratops appears closely related and may even be a juvenile Ceratops but there is just not enough material to prove it.
- Ceratops montanus Marsh 1888 (USNM 2411)
- C. (Bison) alticornis (Marsh 1887/1889). This was the famous pair of horn cores that were originally thought by Marsh to be from a giant bison. Marsh realized his error in 1889 and referred the horns to his Ceratops. Today they are recognized as the first Triceratops remains found and are, to date, the southernmost known Triceratops fossils. Even as Triceratops, it also is a nomen dubium.
- C. (Chasmosaurus) belli (Lambe 1902/Hatcher vide Stanton & Hatcher 1905)
- C. (Eoceratops) canadensis (Lambe 1902/Hatcher vide Stanton & Hatcher 1905)
- C. (Triceratops) horridus (Marsh 1889). This was the first intact ceratopsian skull discovered and led Marsh to realize the significance of the other specimens. As with the aforementioned species, it too is currently recognized as Triceratops.
- C. paucidens (Marsh 1889/1890); nomem dubium included with Lambeosaurus lambei
- C. (Chasmosaurus) recurvicornis (Cope 1890/Hatcher vide Stanton & Hatcher 1905)
Ceratops, like all Ceratopsians, was a herbivore. During the Cretaceous, flowering plants were "geographically limited on the landscape", and so it is likely that this dinosaur fed on the predominant plants of the era: ferns, cycads and conifers. It would have used its sharp Ceratopsian beak to bite off the leaves or needles.
- Dodson, Peter; The Horned Dinosaurs (1996)
- Penkalski, P & Dodson, P (1999). "The morphology and systematics of Avaceratops, a primitive horned dinosaur from the Judith River Formation (Late Campanian) of Montana, with the description of a second skull.". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19 (4): 692–711.
- Trexler D. & Sweeney F.G., 1995. Preliminary work on a recently discovered ceratopsian (Dinosauria: Ceratopsidae) bonebed from the Judith River Formation of Montana suggests the remains are of Ceratops montanus Marsh. J.Vert.Paleont. 15(3, Suppl.): 57A