The iconic, long-celebrated triceratops might have gone the way of the unicorn and the magic dragon. According to the Daily Mail, researchers suspect "the fearsome three-horned triceratops may never have existed." Scientists at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana have analyzed skeletons and deduced that the dinosaurs might have been young versions of another species, the torosaurus.
After comparing about 50 skulls from both species, the researchers found that both animals had three horns, but that the torosaurus had a thinner, smoother neck-frill with holes in it. The article states the triceratops' horns changed shape and hardened as the dino grew up. Researchers noted that the torosaurus' skulls were "still undergoing dramatic changes at the time of death."
The story also says the neck-frill, which was previously thought to be a defense mechanism, might simply display maturity (much like the number of points on a male deer's antlers). As a result of the new findings, the article states all the torosaurus specimens will be reclassified as triceratops — because the triceratops is the more recognizable of the dinosaurs.
CBS news reports that the scientists had never been able to see the dinosaurs as they grew and matured. The article points out that Othniel Marsh, who discovered what he thought were two dinosaurs and classified them as different species in the 1800s when, in fact, he was uncovering baby and adult versions of the same creature. The observation that the skulls changed as the dinosaurs aged sheds new light on the field of paleontology.
According to the CBS article, this new theory also suggests that there were fewer species of dinosaurs when a meteor hit the Earth end of the Cretaceous Period. The article cites researcher John Scannella, who says fewer species and a "major global catastrophe" may have combined, resulting in mass extinction of the dinosaurs.