Among the most well-studied of dinosaurs, Triceratops (meaning “three-horned face”) is a large species of chasmosaurine ceratopsid, or horn-faced, dinosaur. It lived in North America during the late Cretaceous period 67 to 65.5 million years ago alongside other well-known dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex, being among the last non-avian dinosaurs to live on Earth before the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event. It is sometimes nicknamed the “trike,” particularly following its de-extinction by International Genetic Technologies. During its own time, it was among the most common animals; Dr. Robert Bakker estimated in 1986 that Triceratops alone constituted five-sixths of large dinosaurian life by the end of the Cretaceous period.
It was discovered in the Lance Formation of Wyoming by cowboy Edmund B. Wilson in 1888. Alarmed by the sight of a huge horned skull embedded in a ravine wall, Wilson lassoed one of the horns to pull it down. The horn broke off in the lasso, but the skull fell to the bottom of the ravine. His employer, Charles Arthur Guernsey, was impressed by the horn and happened to show it to paleontologist and fossil collector John Bell Hatcher. A year prior to this, a pair of horns belonging to the animal were found by George Lyman Cannon near Denver, Colorado, but were identified by paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh as a new species of Pliocene bison called Bison alticornis. After Marsh learned about Wilson’s skull, Marsh sent Hatcher to recover it.
Having received the skull from Hatcher, Marsh recognized that it was a dinosaur and named it Ceratops horridus, meaning “rough horned face.” Shortly after, paleontologists discovered that the head possessed a third, shorter horn on the nose; realizing that it was not a species of Ceratops but a new, previously unknown genus, Marsh named it Triceratops, meaning “three-horned face,” in 1889. At the time he believed that his 1887 “bison” horns were examples of Ceratops remains, but eventually acknowledged that these, too, belonged to Triceratops.
The sturdy skull of this dinosaur ensures that many fossil remains survive the test of time, so paleontologists found much material to work with over the years. Fossils have been found in several American states; after Colorado and Wyoming, they were discovered in South Dakota and Montana. In Canada, they have been found in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They are particularly common in the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, which is famous for yielding abundant Triceratops remains.
Between 1889 and 1891, a further thirty-one skulls were laboriously collected by Hatcher for Marsh’s benefit. The variations in skull and horn shape prompted Marsh to name eight new species of Triceratops and even a new genus he called Sterrholophus. None of Hatcher’s new skulls were identified as the original species, T. horridus, by Marsh. After Marsh’s death, Hatcher tried to reconcile the many new species more sensibly, but fell sick and was unable to complete his work. Hatcher’s study was completed by paleontologist Richard Swann Lull, and by 1933, the remains had all been classified into taxonomic groups. One group of species was defined by a larger nasal horn, while another group was defined by an increased skull size with larger brow horns and a smaller nasal horn.
During the 1980s, scientists began to theorize that the many species of Triceratops might be better explained as variations within only one or two species. In 1986, paleontologists John Ostrom and Peter Wellnhofer published a paper suggesting that the original Triceratops horridus was the only species after all, and that factors such as age, sex, and conditions of fossilization had produced the variety of forms classified as different species earlier. Their conclusion was challenged by Catherine Forster a few years later; her studies determined that there were actually two species, T. horridus and T. prorsus. A 2009 study by John Scannella and Denver Fowler supported Forster’s conclusion, which is still widely used by the scientific community.
These two species can be told apart by their horn and frill shapes. The slightly larger T. prorsus has brow horns which rise prominently before curving forward, a larger nasal horn and taller snout, and a somewhat taller frill, while the smaller T. horridus has more horizontally-aligned brow horns which curve slightly downward, a smaller nasal horn and shallower snout, and a lower frill. Some paleontologists suggest that the bony parts of the horns would have supported larger keratinous structures and may have looked somewhat different than implied by fossil remains.
The ceratopsid genus Torosaurus is considered by some paleontologists to represent an older, more mature growth stage of Triceratops. This conclusion was supported by InGen’s Dr. Laura Sorkin in 1993, who documented evidence in de-extinct specimens; however, later sources have generally disagreed with Sorkin’s conclusion. Nonetheless, in 2009, Scannella and Jack Horner stated with confidence that Torosaurus should be considered a mature growth stage of Triceratops, which is sometimes called the “toromorph” stage. The debate as to whether Torosaurus is a scientifically valid genus has not yet been resolved.
Triceratops horridus is notable for being the first species successfully brought back from extinction. InGen paleogeneticists Drs. Laura Sorkin and Henry Wu succeeded in cloning T. horridus in 1986 in a laboratory facility on Isla Sorna, Costa Rica using paleo-DNA obtained from the blood of engorged female mosquitoes trapped in Mesozoic amber samples. As of June 11, 1993, InGen had created up to Version 2.05 of the animal. This well-defended creature has bred prominently throughout the history of de-extinction; it is one of the few de-extinct animals that has maintained a healthy breeding population without human intervention following the 2015 Isla Nublar incident.
Triceratops is the official state fossil of South Dakota and the official state dinosaur of Wyoming.
Triceratops is among the biggest of the ceratopsians, with fossilized adults reaching up to nine meters (29.5 feet) in length and three meters (9.8 feet) to the top of its head. InGen’s specimens reach an impressive 10.5 meters (34.4 feet) long and 4.5 meters (14.8 feet) tall, exceeding the dimensions of fossil specimens; weight estimates for InGen’s creatures range from seven U.S. short tons to ten or eleven tons in larger adults (up to 22,000 pounds or 9,979 kilograms). This actually falls short of some paleontological estimates for the animal’s weight, which has been estimated at 6.5 to 13 U.S. short tons (13,000 to 26,000 pounds, 5,896.7 to 11,793.4 kilograms).
The most distinctive feature of the Triceratops is its huge, heavy skull. Unlike many ceratopsids, the skull was made of solid bone rather than having holes (called fenestrae) to make it lighter in weight, excepting possible individuals that entered the toromorph stage. The skull of this animal could make up nearly a third of its overall length, reaching 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long in the largest specimens.
The massive head is wedge-shaped, narrowing toward the front where it forms a high-beaked mouth. While the beak itself is toothless, the jaws farther back contain teeth designed for slicing through food. These teeth, like with most dinosaurs, would wear down and become replaced over time. Triceratops uses thirty-six to forty teeth at a time, depending on its size, and the teeth are arranged in columns called batteries. When the uppermost tooth wears down, it falls out, the one beneath now ready for use. Because of this arrangement, an adult trike can have up to eight hundred teeth in its mouth at once, stacked on top of each other. Its tongue is thick, muscular, and brownish, with a sandpaper-like texture. On the snout is a small conical nasal horn, and over the eyes are a pair of much longer (up to one meter, or 3.3 feet long) brow horns; these are covered with keratin, giving them a cracked fingernail-like appearance. The horns are not extremely sharp, but are sturdy. The animal’s eyes are birdlike rather than reptilian, with large circular pupils and yellow or amber-colored sclerae.
The skull extends backward to form a short but solid circular frill formed from the outer squamosal and inner parietal bones, which defines this animal’s imposing profile when viewed head-on. The frill is decorated around the edge with small bony protrusions called epoccipitals. In Triceratops, these are wide at the base and triangular, forming a saw-tooth fringe. InGen’s specimens have between eighteen and twenty-one epoccipitals as adults. In the journal of Dr. Laura Sorkin, a drawing depicts a specimen with twenty-three distributed asymmetrically on its frill; this pattern has never been seen elsewhere. Many specimens have cheek horns called epijugals located near the base of the frill; most Triceratops have two on either side. Some lack these, however.
As with many chasmosaurines, the portly body of Triceratops is mostly nondescript. Some have noticeable osteoderms on their bodies, but many specimens lack these. Paleontological evidence suggests that it would have had quills on its body, but these are absent in InGen animals as are most other forms of integument. As these features were unknown until more recently, InGen would probably have assumed that they were an unwanted mutation had they appeared on any of the cloned specimens.
The powerful and stocky legs of the trike end in broad feet with distinct hoofed toes; cloned animals generally have rounder feet with shorter toes than their fossil counterparts, appearing somewhat elephant-like. InGen’s specimens differ from fossil ones in the number of toes on each foot. Fossil Triceratops have three toes on each front foot and four on each hind foot, while InGen’s specimens have been observed with up to five toes on the front feet and usually three on the hind feet. Its legs are powerful, and it can reach speeds of ten miles per hour when running.
This animal’s tail is relatively short and not extremely flexible. It serves little purpose other than balance, being unable to swing as an effective weapon like its fellow herbivores Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus.
Coloration in this animal is usually fairly drab, chiefly because of its tendency to roll in dirt and dust which coats its body. It is naturally a gray-blue, gray-green, or gray-brown color, with some patterning on the dorsal side and flanks; the osteoderms and horns are usually lighter than the rest of the body. Others have been seen with beige or tan skin, featuring a pale brown saddle marking and stripes on the rear half. Shading of the body color also varies; while many are lighter-colored, numerous dark-colored individuals are known. In the darkest-skinned trikes, white stripes along the length of the dorsal side from neck to hips can stand out vividly against the gray skin, and the head often has a white tint. There may be circular spots and blotches on some animals; coloration is believed to be genetically linked.
The head is surprisingly not brightly colored, with the frill being more or less the same color as the rest of its pelt. Some specimens, most of which were bred for Jurassic World in the twenty-first century, feature pale teal markings around the eyes. Unlike many dinosaurs, there is little countershading.
Because trikes are such successful breeders, their growth stages are remarkably well understood; the only real scientific unknown is the mysterious “toromorph” stage which has only been observed developing on one occasion.
Upon hatching, trikes are less than a foot long. At this stage, their coloration typically resembles what they will look like as an adult. The horns begin as small blunt nubs roughly an inch long, growing out as the animal ages into adolescence. The brain is about the size of a hazelnut at this age. Its epoccipitals are absent when it hatches, but in some specimens grow out relatively quickly. By the time it becomes an adolescent, at least some of the epoccipitals will have formed, signifying the approach of adulthood. Juveniles can be told apart by the shape of their horns, which are straight and point upward. As they age, the horns will begin to curve forward. Hatchlings and juveniles may already show development of the epijugals, though often only one will have developed yet. Adults may have two. In general, the bony ornamentation on the trike’s head is more rounded in young animals, becoming sharper as they approach maturity. As the animal’s ornamentation grows, it will rub its horns and frill on objects such as trees to help shed the outer layers.
Most, if not all, of the epoccipitals will have formed by the time the animal is roughly seven or eight feet long, though the horns will still not have reached their full length. At this stage the frill is mostly developed, coinciding with the stage at which it will begin aggressive dominance displays with its neighbors. Development of osteoderms may also occur with age, though some trikes have these mostly formed in the juvenile stage and some never develop them at all.
Older animals have more prominent frills and larger epoccipitals, and adulthood is identified by the curvature of the fully-formed horns. At this stage, the horns curve forward and slightly downward before sweeping upward again, though how dramatic this wave-shaped pattern becomes varies with the individual. Adults’ frills also become marked with scars gained during intraspecific combat, older animals having dueled more of their own kind than younger ones. As it becomes advanced in age, the epoccipitals slowly wear away, and the horns hollow out.
For more than a century, some scientists have posited that the genus Torosaurus is not actually a real animal at all, but rather a growth stage of Triceratops. This speculative stage has been called the “toromorph” by some paleontologists who support the theory. The transition from standard adult trike to toromorph has been observed only one time; it is recorded in Dr. Laura Sorkin’s field journal in entry #2. She reports that the trike’s brow horns straighten and elongate and the beak becomes extended and more hooked, while the frill elongates into a heart-like shape and develops very large fenestrae. Sorkin hypothesized that these fenestrae, or holes, develop in the frill to compensate for its increased size. The epoccipitals disappear from the frill in this stage. It should be noted that the individual she recorded undergoing this transformation had an abnormally large number of epoccipitals, twenty-three, with ten on the animal’s right side and twelve on the left with a single one at the frill’s apex. Asymmetry in epoccipital distribution has otherwise not been observed in InGen’s Triceratops, and it is unknown if this individual’s unusual morphological traits as a standard trike adult were in any way related to its reaching the toromorph stage.
In any case, Torosaurus has been consistently treated as a valid genus separate from Triceratops in most material outside of Dr. Sorkin’s single observation. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that her case study was in any way representative of typical Triceratops ontogeny. Its exact growth rate is not known, but adulthood of the original animals hatched in 1986 was reached sometime before the summer of 1993; this suggests that trikes mature in seven years at most.
Fossil evidence has been used to argue that Triceratops expressed sexual dimorphism, usually with longer horns and larger frills indicating that the animals are male. However, the amount of individualism in fossil remains makes this difficult to prove. InGen’s specimens also demonstrate a fair degree of individualism; while both males and females have been identified conclusively, there is not currently a reliable way to sex the animals based on a quick visual observation.
The low-built, portly frame of this dinosaur gives it some difficulty moving in densely-forested regions, so it prefers grassland and semi-arid regions. Fossil evidence suggests that it flourished on fern prairies and floodplains during the late Cretaceous period, and that it avoided wetland due to being a poor swimmer. Its feet are poorly adapted for loose soil or mud, suggesting that it spent all of its time on solid ground. It is generally seen on open, flat areas of land; forests are commonly nearby, but it usually does not venture into them very often. For health reasons, they require sources of water in their habitat that are deep enough to bathe in.
The game Jurassic World: Evolution portray it as requiring 9,200 square meters of grassland and 4,700 square meters of forest in its habitat to be comfortable.
Beginning in 1988, dinosaurs were shipped from Isla Sorna to Isla Nublar, with Triceratops among them. There were two regions of the island intended to be used as Triceratops paddocks; the northern one consisted of a large area of grassland and shrubbery (including heliconias, banana plants, and West Indian lilac), as well as patches of dirt, sparse forest, and a small river. It was bordered to the east by what would eventually be the Metriacanthosaurus paddock, separated from it by the main tour road and five- to ten-foot electric fencing. However, the western half of this paddock was separated from the eastern half by a branch of the main road, which likewise had electric fencing on its western side. On the eastern side, it had a wire fence. Animals were kept on both sides of the fenced road as of 1993, allowing Park staff to separate them from one another if needed. To the west, it was separated from the secondary Dilophosaurus paddock by a twenty-four-foot electric fence, and it similarly bordered the Tyrannosaurus paddock to the south. North of the paddock’s boundaries, there were no other animal ranges; a small area of land separated its northern boundary from the Park’s perimeter fence. In the southern part of the island, a secondary Triceratops paddock bordered the Jungle River to the north, and surrounded most of the Segisaurus paddock. It was separated from this smaller paddock by the main tour road and a concrete moat. To the west, it was bordered by a service road with a similar concrete moat. On all other sides, its borders were made up of the Park‘s perimeter fence.
Triceratops has the distinction of having had both the northernmost and southernmost paddock areas on Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park.
As of June 11, 1993, there were several living Triceratops on Isla Nublar. The eldest was a female dubbed Lady Margaret by her caretakers. At least one other adult female lived in the Park at the time. There were also at least three juvenile females, one of which was named Bakhita; another may have been named Emile.
Dr. Laura Sorkin’s notes suggest that, at one point, at least one of InGen’s trikes matured into the rare and poorly-understood “toromorph” stage, but this individual has never been seen outside of her journal illustration and may have resided on Isla Sorna rather than Isla Nublar. If it did live on Isla Nublar, it was no longer alive by June 11, 1993.
During the 1993 incident, the Triceratops were able to roam outside of their paddock area, but did not travel particularly far. Lady Margaret was hunted down and killed by the Park’s Tyrannosaurus during the incident; this left only one other adult trike on the island, an animal that was sick from plant toxins at the time.
InGen’s last recording of the island in 1993 showed only three surviving Triceratops, but whether the sick individual or Bakhita were among these remains unknown as InGen did not make not of the specimens’ identities. It is generally assumed that the sickly individual would have been easily preyed upon by the tyrannosaur, leaving only the juveniles. A 1994 cleanup operation reported on October 5 that there were only two remaining trikes on Isla Nublar.
In 2002, InGen returned to Isla Nublar having been bought by Masrani Global Corporation. In order to prepare the island for construction, many of the larger animals were shipped temporarily to Isla Sorna, including any remaining Triceratops. They were returned in early 2004; during January, they were prepped for transport, and fifteen females had been introduced to the island by the summer. They were housed in the central valley of the island, where the Gyrosphere attraction was planned. The eldest of this group was named Hypatia, with the next-oldest being named Johnson and Curie. In August, an adolescent female named Lovelace was introduced to the valley, bringing the total population to sixteen. Eggs and hatchlings were also held in the hatchery at the time. It is not known if any of Isla Sorna’s males were salvaged during that island’s ecological collapse; Isla Nublar did have males living there during the Jurassic World era, but they may have been bred on the island independently of the Isla Sorna rescue operation.
By the time Jurassic World opened to the public on May 30, 2005, all of the Triceratops from Isla Sorna had been transported to Isla Nublar. This was among the most prolific breeders on the island, possibly encouraged by Jurassic World’s staff due to the animal’s popularity in the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo. They lived here during the juvenile stage, being moved to the central valley during adolescence. In addition to the Gyrosphere area, adult trikes were exhibited in an attraction located west of there called Triceratops Territory. All of the animals seen in the Gyrosphere and Gentle Giants attractions had lighter-colored brown and beige patterning; the darker skin patterns may have persisted elsewhere on the island, or possibly became extinct.
As of December 18, 2015, there were at least sixteen adult Triceratops living in the Gyrosphere area of the valley and seven juveniles in the petting zoo. According to the database in Jurassic World: Evolution, the Tyrannosaurus was the only dinosaur left on the island at this point that had lived in the original Park; this would imply that the two trikes that survived as of 1994 were no longer living by 2015. However, the database has since been contradicted by film director J.A. Bayona in the case of at least one Brachiosaurus, introducing the possibility that other first-generation Isla Nublar animals may have still been alive.
The closure of Jurassic World following December 18 permitted the dinosaurs to roam the island mostly unrestricted. Without any staff members or adult trikes in Sector 3, juveniles in the petting zoo would have been at the mercy of the environment, and if they were not freed by the Jurassic World staff, there is a high chance that they did not survive. The adults remained in the north, with their herd basing itself out of Triceratops Territory near the Western Ridge. They continued to breed while in the wild; a female had laid five eggs as of 2016 in what was once the Adventure Zone.
As of May 15, 2018, at least one of the surviving trikes was a female that had originally hatched in the wild on Isla Sorna. As of such, its date of birth is unknown. In the early summer of 2018, a juvenile was sighted in the area near Mount Sibo; promotional material suggests that there were possibly several juvenile trikes on the island that summer. These juveniles would probably have been a year or two old at best, having hatched some time after the island was abandoned. The number of adult males and females living at the time, however, is unknown.
On June 23, 2018, the desiccated remains of an adult Triceratops were seen in what was once Gallimimus Valley. Three living adults were seen near Mount Sibo. A deleted scene would have shown a young juvenile in the same area at that time, alongside its parent. They were driven toward the eastern cliffs by the volcanic eruption that took place the day. A further three adults and one juvenile were removed from Isla Nublar on June 23 by means of the S.S. Arcadia; any left living on the island likely died either due to drowning, volcanic debris and other volcanic hazards, or the loss of their food sources.
This species has the honor of being the first creature to become de-extinct, having been cloned successfully by InGen on Isla Sorna for the first time in 1986. Population statistics for Triceratops between 1986 and 1993 are mostly unknown; between 1988 and 1993, however, as many as five were transported away from Isla Sorna for exhibition in Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar. These included one of the eldest trikes, Lady Margaret, and a female named either Freda or Sarah depending on the source. Three juveniles may have been transported from Isla Sorna by 1993, but it is also possible they were bred on Isla Nublar. At least one toromorph-stage trike was reported by Dr. Laura Sorkin by 1993, but as it was never seen outside of her notes, it is presumed to have died at some point, either on Isla Sorna or on Isla Nublar if it was transported there.
In late 1993, Site B was abandoned by InGen due to the impending Hurricane Clarissa. At the last point that InGen monitored Isla Sorna in 1993, there were ten living trikes on the island. While their location is unknown, they most likely inhabited the southwest, where most Triceratops were later found.
Satellite thermal mapping in 1997 located a population of Triceratops concentrated in central Isla Sorna; they were known to inhabit multiple parts of the island between 1997 and 2004. They were among the species targeted during the 1997 InGen expedition to Isla Sorna, with an adult male and four-foot-long juvenile being captured. This juvenile is sometimes dubbed Ralph, and is presumed to be related to the adult male. These two animals were captured in the northeastern part of the island near the game trail, and escaped the InGen Harvester encampment on the night of May 23, 1997. They are the only trikes known from this area, but a female must have been present at some point in order for the juvenile to exist.
Sometime during May or June of 2001, Eric Kirby witnessed an adult or sub-adult Triceratops in the parking lot area of the Embryonics, Administration, and Laboratories Compound. This appears to have been a solitary individual. Another solitary adult Triceratops was seen a week or two later, sometime in June, in the island’s southwest; it was possibly the same animal.
On July 18, illegal chartered flight N622DC passed over a grassland area of western Isla Sorna; the passengers witnessed a population of twelve adults and subadults with two twelve-foot-long adolescents. Differing patterns in the adults suggest males and females, but individualism in Triceratops is not necessarily tied to sexual dimorphism. Nonetheless, the fact that this herd contained young means that it must necessarily have male and female adults. One of the Triceratops in this group, a lighter-colored adult, was browsing some distance behind the herd, and may not have been part of it. Two of the darker-colored adults, one with white stripes and one without, stood farther ahead of the herd but appeared to be moving in the same direction.
The junior novel Prey features a herd of Triceratops with multiple infants and at least three fully-grown adults (including at least one male) on December 30, 2001 living in southwestern Isla Sorna near Mount Hood. This herd was identifiable by spot and blotching patterns on their skin, unlike the stripe patterns of the animals seen on July 18. The infants would have hatched from eggs laid sometime about six months to a year prior.
Isla Sorna’s Triceratops population growth is reasonable between 1993 and 2001. In late 1993, there were ten living animals; by 1997, at least one breeding pair had managed to reproduce successfully. In the summer of 2001, there were at least fourteen animals still alive on the island, two of which were juveniles that would have hatched between 1997 and 2000. If the account in Prey is accurate, more animals may have hatched in late 2001. By early 2004, there were at least sixteen surviving female trikes on the island, including three older adults, one juvenile, and twelve other adults or subadults. It is unknown if any of the dark-skinned, striped trikes survived, or if the spotted trikes described in Prey survived in the event that they are canon. At least one gray-colored, wild-born female did survive.
Overall, there may have been forty or more trikes on the island by 2004, assuming that none of the groups discussed above had any overlap. Of course, it is more likely that many of the individuals seen between 1997 and 2001 had died by that time due to the effects of ecological overcrowding.
Between late 1998 and early 1999, InGen illegally bred dinosaurs and performed research on Isla Sorna in preparation for a reinvigorated Jurassic Park project under the banner of Masrani Global Corporation. This caused havoc in Isla Sorna’s already-fragile ecosystem, including the death of one of its tyrannosaurs on July 18, 2001. While the death of the tyrannosaur would have benefitted the Triceratops, the presence of many new herbivorous dinosaurs would have harmed them by competing for food. Their population likely suffered as a result.
The new Jurassic Park project, going under the name Jurassic World, required any surviving trikes on Isla Nublar to be relocated to Isla Sorna; it is not actually known if any of the two Nublar survivors were still alive by this point in 2002. Nonetheless, in 2004, the relocation of Site B’s trike population began. They were the second species to be relocated to Isla Nublar, after Brachiosaurus. Preparation began in January, and by the summer, fifteen adults or subadults had been successfully removed from the island. These included three older females named Hypatia, Johnson, and Curie; an adolescent female named Lovelace was removed from Isla Sorna by August at the latest. Curie and Lovelace had previously been members of the same herd on Isla Sorna. All of the sixteen relocated trikes were named after famous female scientists, suggesting that none of this population were males.
By May 30, 2005, the entire Triceratops population had supposedly been relocated off Isla Sorna. This included a light-gray female that hatched sometime while Isla Sorna was unmonitored, though that particular animal may have been one of the original fifteen relocated adults. It may also have included some of the island’s males, since the Isla Nublar population was able to continue breeding; alternatively, the males may have been cloned on Isla Nublar independently of the Isla Sorna immigrants.
Triceratops was planned to appear in Jurassic Park: San Diego, but this project was never completed as the InGen Harvester operation in May of 1997 was sabotaged. An adult male and a young juvenile were collected for exhibition from Isla Sorna but were not successfully removed from the island. Between 1997 and 2018, the islands in the Gulf of Fernandez were affected by poachers; it is unknown if any of them managed to secure any trikes for their buyers.
The first confirmed case of Triceratops outside of the Gulf of Fernandez were a group of three adults and one juvenile (approximately three or four feet long) which were collected from Isla Nublar by mercenaries led by Ken Wheatley operating at the behest of Eli Mills. On June 23, 2018, the animals were removed from the island by means of the shipping vessel S.S. Arcadia and delivered to the Lockwood estate near Orick, California. One of the adults was the mother of the juvenile (either biological or adoptive). The juvenile had been specifically requested by American oil baron Rand Magnus, who sought to buy it at auction for his son. Before the animal could be auctioned off, however, the operation was disrupted and the remaining dinosaurs were released into the surrounding woodland by Maisie Lockwood to save them from hydrogen cyanide poisoning. The trike, its mother, and the other two adults were last seen near Orick; their present whereabouts are unknown. One adult was sighted on its own in July 2018 on a rural Californian road, suggesting that the animals still inhabit that general area.
Behavior and Ecology
Triceratops are diurnal, and can be seen during most times of the day. They usually wake up with the sunrise, moving to areas where rocks or metal structures provide them with a means to warm themselves in the sun. They are commonly seen basking on the shores of lakes or rivers during the morning. Activity throughout the daytime consists of bathing, feeding, and social interaction. During the noontime heat, they may rest in the shade of trees. In Jurassic World, their main meals were given close to sunset. At night they usually rest, though some of the adult animals in herds may remain awake to watch for predators.
The mobile game Jurassic Park: Builder and its sequel Jurassic World: The Game portray it as the most lethargic of the animals, active for only five-minute periods at a time before resting.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
Triceratops is a selective feeder, with a mouth specialized for particular kinds of plants. It is a herbivore that eats large quantities of fibrous plants, with the bulk of its diet consisting of ferns, cycads, and palms. Their beaked mouths are designed to crop off pieces of these tough plant items, which would then be sheared apart by hundreds of teeth. It cannot chew its food, instead moving its jaw in an up-and-down motion.
Its head is built low to the ground, so it mostly eats low-growing plants. However, its bulky body allows it to push over small and medium-sized trees to get at their leaves and shoots. They are known to feed on the stalks of banana leaves (Musa callimusa), though they do not seem to prefer the blade part of the leaf. Bracken ferns grow in its habitat, and may cause health issues if consumed in excess. Soft plants are generally avoided; they do not eat West Indian lilac (Tetrazygia bicolor), which is toxic to them, or flowers in the genus Heliconia. Like many animals, they can show individual personal preference for certain types of food; for example, the individual Lovelace favored strawberries.
In Jurassic World: Evolution, this animal’s preferred food source is horsetails, but it will also feed on rotten wood and palm leaves. It is unhealthy for it to eat pawpaws, mosses, and cycads; this contrasts with other sources as late as 2015 which state that Triceratops does eat cycads. The game may simply contain an error in this case, or else paleoveterinarians may have discovered this health effect sometime between 2015 and 2018.
Both loner and herd-dwelling Triceratops have been documented; fossil evidence suggests that solitary behavior or small groups would be naturally common. However, herding behavior has been observed on several occasions in InGen specimens. Herds consist of several adults and their offspring; typically, the herd is led by a matriarch, the eldest female in the group. The matriarch, as well as any other healthy adults, will fiercely defend the younger members of the herd from threats, even at great personal risk.
While Triceratops can live happily by itself, social bonds are incredibly strong among these animals; they can recognize individual members of their herds, probably by looking at unique features of their faces and color patterns. When facing one another, the frills of Triceratops make stunning visual displays that can be used to communicate or recognize each other. Larger frills provide the animals with better protection against both rivals and predators, so the animals with the largest, strongest frills become the leaders of the herd.
Dominance is achieved in this species with shows of force. A challenge is initiated by aiming the horns at the opponent and pawing the ground; the animals will then charge each other, locking horns and pushing against one another. The weaker trike will back down, establishing the stronger one as the dominant animal. Adults have been known to perform dominance displays against juveniles, situations which are probably less serious than two adults competing for dominance. These adult-juvenile contests reestablish the adults as respectable authority figures that can protect the smaller juveniles, as well as giving the juveniles practice for the combats they will face as adults.
Protective behavior in mature Triceratops does not only involve their own offspring. Adult trikes are commonly known to adopt juveniles with no genetic relation to themselves, caring for them as though they were their own. These adoptive parental relationships persist throughout life, with older adults still protecting and providing care for younger animals that have entered adolescence.
In the game Jurassic World: Evolution, this dinosaur can live solitarily or in groups of up to six; however, herds consisting of up to sixteen animals have been reported otherwise.
If the account in Prey is to be believed, Triceratops eggs hatch sometime late in the year, during what in Central America would be the rainy season. Larger dinosaurs like trikes have incubation periods that last six months to a year, but the exact duration of time that trike eggs incubate for has not been given. At least one nest has been recorded in 2016 containing five eggs, but adults are often seen with only one offspring, suggesting a high infant mortality rate.
Triceratops hatches from eggs roughly the size and shape of canteloupes, and is itself about the size of a softball as a hatchling. Rearing and protecting the young is the responsibility of all the adults, who will defend them against any threat: InGen animal behaviorist Owen Grady claims that adults will sacrifice their lives for the juveniles. Each juvenile will form a particularly close bond with one adult, though; this is often its parent, but orphaned or abandoned young are often adopted by unrelated adults. The parent, whether it is biological or a surrogate, will teach the young what it needs to know to survive and keep a watchful eye on it at all times. Youthful trikes are often carefree and unafraid of danger until they learn better; without adults around, a juvenile would be easy prey for many predators. InGen animal caretakers discovered in 2004 that embryonic and hatchling trikes respond positively to jazz music, the leading hypothesis being that the rhythm of this particular genre mimics the heartbeat of a nearby adult. This suggests that the parent-child bond starts before the baby has even hatched, and that the presence of adults provides for emotional needs as well as physical protection. Even adolescents sometimes need the comforting presence of their parental figures and other adults when they become stressed or threatened.
Courtship among the adults involves the use of the horns and frill as display structures. If Dr. Sorkin’s research into toromorphs is accurate, the rare development of the toromorph stage may be a yet-unknown display mechanism, elongating the horns and frill to make the animal appear more attractive to potential mates. The size of these features directly relates to the trike’s ability to defend itself and its family, so longer horns and a bigger frill make for a more desirable mate. Like most dinosaurs, Triceratops has a cloaca rather than external genitals, and this is used in mating.
This animal primarily communicates with expressive snorting and grunting sounds, and may make trilling noises to comfort stressed younger animals. When angered or frightened, they will emit high-pitched bellows. In adults, this noise can be used to intimidate predators and alert other trikes to the danger; when used by juveniles, it is an alarm cry which draws the attention of its caregivers. This bellowing sound is also made by Stegosaurus when they are stressed or angry, suggesting that the behavior may be convergent.
Not all communication in Triceratops is vocal. Body language plays a major role in their dialogue, with stomping and head-tossing being some of the main ways they communicate. Stomping the feet is used to show excitement; on the other hand, pawing at the ground is a clear threat display, made more serious if the horns are aimed at the target. Trikes will toss their heads when they are agitated, and the frill makes this a very obvious motion to other animals. This makes head-tossing an easy non-vocal way to let other herd members know that something is amiss. Shaking the body and swishing the tail are signs of nervousness.
Physical contact is also used by adults to comfort juveniles and adolescents. A mother may nuzzle her offspring using her snout, or they may place their frills together and rub them against one another. The back of the frill is a sensitive area which the Triceratops enjoys having rubbed.
This solidly-built herbivore has few predators, and itself maintains the grassy plains it inhabits by regularly cropping brush and pushing over trees. It does not eat much fruit, so it is not a major distributor of seeds. Instead, it preys on the stems and leaves of certain plants, such as bananas, preventing them from growing and spreading. However, some plants such as West Indian lilac and bracken may have adverse health effects on trikes that consume them.
As an adult, the horns of the Triceratops make formiddable weapons against even very large predators and its frill protects its neck from being bitten. It is sometimes preyed upon by Tyrannosaurus rex, a predator-prey relationship that extends all the way back to the late Cretaceous period. However, an adult trike can drive away a tyrannosaur using its horns. The juveniles are less capable of protecting themselves, relying on adults for safety from predators including Velociraptors and particularly ambitious Pteranodons. Larger theropods such as Allosaurus and Teratophoneus may also pose threats to juveniles, and the adults will defend them vigorously. Triceratops has been known to live in territories inhabited by the tiny Compsognathus, which probably does not present a major threat, as well as the medium-sized theropods Carnotaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Baryonyx. According to the Jurassic World Employee Handbook penned by Claire Dearing, Carnotaurus will sometimes attempt to prey on Triceratops. The giant Spinosaurus has also been reported from areas where trikes live, but this animal usually hunts in or near deep bodies of water. The omnivorous Gallimimus can on occasion be found in trike territories, but aside from perhaps eating their eggs, it would not pose them any threat.
Triceratops can coexist with a fair number of other animals, and can be seen living in close proximity to other herbivores. It avoids competition through its aggressive territoriality, driving away weaker competitors. Nonetheless, it has been witnessed in the wild living peacefully alongside fellow armored herbivores Ankylosaurus and Stegosaurus. These dinosaurs feed on different food sources and prefer more densely forested areas, so they can coexist with Triceratops without too much difficulty (though an aggressive conflict between a Triceratops and an Ankylosaurus was witnessed in California in late 2019). Sauropods, such as Brachiosaurus, Mamenchisaurus, and Apatosaurus, avoid competing with it by feeding on higher trees. Its main conflicts, then, take place between it and less well-defended herbivores such as Pachycephalosaurus, Stygimoloch, Parasaurolophus, and Corythosaurus. It was known to inhabit the same territory as fellow ceratopsid Sinoceratops and possibly Pachyrhinosaurus, though the relationships between them are not well known. Trikes are known to be aggressive toward the young of other species, sometimes harassing them to the point of death; this would make them a force of natural selection in their environments.
However, the presence of these powerful herbivores is beneficial to the small animals they do not directly compete with. They are often seen alongside many species of birds, including the collared aracari, which benefit because the trikes keep medium-sized and large predators away. Some birds are known to perch on top of resting trikes, possibly picking off parasites such as ticks as well as eating dead skin. Small non-avian dinosaurs, too, would do better living near trikes, so long as they avoid competing with them for food. The minute Compsognathus and Microceratus have been known to live near or within Triceratops habitats.
The game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis states that it prefers to keep company with Torosaurus, which has been suggested to be a rare growth stage of Triceratops. Aside from a single reported toromorph in the late 1980s or early 1990s, no members of this genus (or trikes which reach this proposed growth stage) have been observed in the film canon.
Like all dinosaurs, the Triceratops is host to many microorganisms and parasites. It bathes in water regularly to avoid infections such as bumblefoot, which is caused when bacteria invade a cut or scrape on the foot.
In the game Jurassic World: Evolution, this dinosaur is particularly susceptible to parasitic hookworms, but is not known to host the bacterium Campylobacter and is therefore immune to campylobacteriosis.
Relationship to Humans
Because of its famous nature as the best-studied ceratopsid, and one of the largest, this dinosaur has been featured in many de-extinction attractions. InGen’s original plans for Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar would have had two different trike paddocks, making it visible from both the main tour and the Jungle River Cruise. Adults and juveniles were both to be exhibited, showcasing the buffalo-like herding behavior and dominance displays put on by this popular dinosaur. The attempt at resurrecting Jurassic Park: San Diego planned to feature a father and child Triceratops, though this did not succeed.
Jurassic World housed at least two herds of Triceratops, placing adults in both the Gyrosphere area of the central valley and an attraction called Triceratops Territory. Juveniles, like those of most of the herbivores, were kept in the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo; here, children were permitted to ride on the dinosaurs using specially-made saddles, and visitors could feed them cubes of dinosaur food for US $5 a piece. Visitors were encouraged to rub them behind their frills, which helped them become comfortable with the children riding them. Triceratops was unequivocally one of the most popular and beloved attractions in Jurassic World.
However, exhibiting this dinosaur is not without quite a bit of difficulty. Its diet is restrictive, as it does not generally eat soft plants and must be fed tougher, fibrous food. Finding a suitable habitat to raise it means ensuring that the plants it needs can grow there. Secondly, while this animal is only dangerous when provoked, it is very dangerous when provoked; its horns can cause serious damage to vehicles and other equipment, and its enormous bulk can easily crush and kill a human in seconds. Adults guarding young are particularly easy to provoke, which makes it difficult to exhibit both adults and young to the public safely. Jurassic World got around this challenge by separating the young from the adults until adolescence was reached. Even then, the young adolescents could cause disruption by engaging in dominance displays with each other while visitors were trying to interact with them; Jurassic World’s Asset Containment Unit had tranquilized young trikes when this behavior occurred on multiple occasions.
Once in their habitats, Triceratops could still cause problems. While its feeding behavior helps with upkeep of plant life, it may be problematic toward other dinosaurs. Though it is not always aggressive, it can be hot-headed, and it may bully weaker animals that compete with it for food. This was an issue in Jurassic World’s early stages of development, as the hatchling Ankylosaurus could not be safely introduced to the central valley due to the trikes’ aggressively competitive nature.
Other minor problems involving Triceratops were the tendency of juveniles to eat human food if given the opportunity, which could be unhealthy for them, as well as food-like items such as straw hats that visitors might be carrying. They could become nervous around unfamiliar people, increasing the chances of aggressive behavior. Small injuries sustained during intraspecific combat would also be health concerns for InGen’s paleovets, as they could become infected and lead to more serious pathology.
Despite all this, Triceratops is among the most commercially successful of InGen’s dinosaurs. It has consistently featured in every attempt at a de-extinction park, and the juveniles are adored by animal enthusiasts the world over. Even to their handlers, this dinosaur was often enjoyable to work with due to its social nature. Not only can they recognize specific members of their own species, there is some evidence that they can recognize human faces; they are known to be more comfortable when they work with the same caretakers, which InGen discovered as early as 1993. According to the Jurassic World Employee Handbook, Triceratops was the second-most visited animal asset in the park, exceeded only by Tyrannosaurus rex.
As with all popular dinosaurs, this animal’s fame leads to exploitation. One of the targets of the 2018 dinosaur extraction operation carried out by Eli Mills was a baby Triceratops, which was captured along with its mother to auction off at the Lockwood estate. Rand Mangus, an oil magnate from Texas, had intended to buy the baby animal as a pet for his son and sent two of his horse buyers to the estate for that purpose. He was unable to buy it due to the auction being shut down; two other adults along with the juvenile’s mother had been captured with the intent to sell, but all of them escaped. One of the adults intentionally ran down and trampled one of Mills’s hired mercenaries during the escape, likely recognizing the man as a threat to the juvenile. This is the first confirmed case of a Triceratops killing a human.
Based on Jurassic World: Evolution, the cost for raising a Triceratops from fertilization to maturity as of 2018 would be $230,000.