Well, I mean, it was extinct already anyway, but it looks as if the tricerotops may have actually been a young adult version of a different dino altogether – the torosaurus.
Scannella and Horner examined 29 triceratops skulls and nine torosaurus skulls, mostly from the late-Cretaceous Hell Creek formation in Montana. The triceratops skulls were between 0.5 and 2 metres long. By counting growth lines in the bones, not unlike tree rings, they have shown clearly that the skulls come from animals of different ages, from juveniles to young adults. Torosaurus fossils are much rarer, 2 to 3 metres long and, crucially, only adult specimens have ever been found.
The duo say there is a clear transition from triceratops into torosaurus as the animals grow older. For example, the oldest specimens of triceratops show a marked thinning of the bone where torosaurus has holes, suggesting they are in the process of becoming fenestrated (Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, vol 30, p 1157).
The mix up apparently happened in the late 1800s when remains of this dino were discovered. They looked different enough to give Othniel Mars the mistaken impression there were two kinds of animal when it was really one type at different stages of its life. A lot of animals go through stages — I read a blog somewhere (forget who, sorry) who made the point that an egg eventually becomes a chicken, too. Hell, even plants – you can’t look at an acorn and judge what it’ll turn into either just by the shape of it.
Gotta love the scientific quest for knowledge. It’s never ending. And it’s always coming up with something pretty damned fantastic in the process.