Dinosaurs Encyclopedia & Data Dig Sample Record

Pronounced: pro-toe-SAIR-uh-tops
Type species: Protoceratops andrewsi
In honor of Roy Chapman Andrews, fossil hunter and adventurer who found many Protoceratops bones and eggs
Other species: hellenikorhinus
Other names: None
Describer: Granger and W. Gregory, 1923
Meaning: “First horned face”
Etymology: Protos (Greek) = “first” + kerat (Greek) = “horned” + ops (Greek) = “face”, because it was the earliest known ceratopsian or horned dinosaur at the time
Features: Head and neck: Large head, narrow parrot beak, large eyes, low bumps on face, muscular cheeks, small neck frill, no horns, relatively large brain for a ceratopsian
Body: Stocky body
Limbs: Strong legs with broad feet (hip height: 2′ 5″)
Tail: Thick heavy relatively long tail
Maximum length: 240 cm Maximum height: 80 cm Maximum weight: 180 kg
Walking habit: Mostly quadruped Walking speed: 2 km/h Maximum speed: 28 km/h
Possible E.Q.: Low EQ – Intermediate EQ Metabolic type: Lower RMR – Intermediate RMR
Taxon: Dinosauria | Ornithischia | Genasauria | Neornithischia | Cerapoda | Chasmatopia | Heterodontosauriformes | ?”Marginocephalia” | Ceratopsia | Neoceratopsia | Coronosauria | Protoceratopsidae | Protoceratops
Order: Ornithischia Suborder: ?”Marginocephalia”
Infraorder: Ceratopsia Family: Protoceratopsidae
Family ties: Bagaceratops, Bainoceratops, Graciliceratops, Lamaceratops, Magnirostris, Platyceratops, Serendipaceratops [+ search DataDig]
Comments: Considered by some to have been the ancestor of the later horned dinosaurs.
Recent studies suggest that ceratopsians evolved from some “hypsilophodonts”.
Habitat: Hot and dry open country to giant desert sand dunes
Diet: Herbivore: Buried roots and tubers and low plants
Feeding, offence and defence: Feeding: Protoceratops would have spent most of its time eating. It fed very close to the ground up to the 1′ 7″ level though it may have been capable of bipedal feeding too. Some areas in which it lived were dominated by shifting sands where plants were rare. In these areas Protoceratops may have used its strong front legs to dig for roots and tubers. Most of the water it required was supplied through its food.
Eating and digestion: Foliage was cropped or roots and tubers held by the narrow, parrot-like beak. The food was then passed to teeth where it was crushed by the up-and-down movement of the powerful jaws. Worn teeth were constantly replaced. Unlike later ceratopsians however Protoceratops‘ chewing mechanism was not particularly powerful because while the frill is enlarged it is not thickened, so most of the expansion was not for muscle attachment.
Defense: Living in herds would have provided some protection as a group of defensive Protoceratops would have been formidable to a small predator. If attacked a herd may have stood its ground and formed a defensive cordon around the young. Because it had no horns or spikes Protoceratops may have preferred to intimidate a smaller attacker if forced to defend itself. It is possible frills were brightly colored to emphasize their size. The holes in the crest may have been covered with skin that flushed with blood creating eye-spots. If cornered it may have charged at its opponent. Protoceratops was also a speedy runner and would have run off if it could to avoid conflict. The fontanelles in the frill meant it provided limited protection against lethal bites to the neck region but their hooked beaks would have made excellent biting weapons. This is illustrated by the famous “fighting dinosaurs” discovery of Mongolia where a Velociraptor and Protoceratops were apparently preserved mid-conflict. The Velociraptor has grasped the head while it apparently attempts to puncture the Protoceratops‘ trachea with its sickle claw. In retaliation the Protoceratops has a forearm of the Velociraptor in its jaws.
Growth and development: Reproductive method: Oviparous
Sexual dimorphism: There seems to be two forms: a robust form, probably male, with a raised frill and high nose bump and a gracile form with a flat snout and low frill. Currently however there is no unequivocal evidence for sexual dimorphism in any ceratopsian.
Courtship and mating: The frill was probably used as a mating display and to intimidate rivals.
Nesting: Protoceratops made nests approximately 1′ 11″ wide into which it laid between 12 and 20 eggs. Tiny hatchlings (length: 9″, skull length: 1″) have been found while older hatchlings (length: 1′ 10″ long, weight: 500 g (18 oz)) have also been recovered. Young may have stayed with the parents or kept together as a group until they could survive on their own. This is supported by the discovery of a nest of 15 juveniles.
Development: A sampling of five ceratopsian infants showed they all began life with shortened faces, large eyes, small neck frills and lacking the ornamentation found in adults. Frill development occurs as individuals approach sexual maturity and full body size. Protoceratops may have taken between 26 and 38 years to mature.


Probably gregarious: Protoceratops probably lived in groups and may have had sophisticated social lives.
The frill of Protoceratops probably served an important social purpose. While it is enlarged it was not thickened for jaw muscle attachments and so probably served a visual purpose.
Period: Late Cretaceous
Stages: Middle Campanian, Late Campanian
First appears: 85 m.y.a. Last appears: 80 m.y.a.
Skeletons: Asia (China, Mongolia)
Inner Mongolia: Bayan Mandahu, Ulan-tsonch
Shandong Province: near Zhangying
Omnogovi Province: east of Arts Bogdo and north of Gurban Siakhan Mountains, Bayan Dzak, Dzamyu Khond, Khermeen Tsav II, Khulsan, Toogreeg, Tugrigeen Shireh
Eggs, hatchlings and juveniles: Bayan Mandahu, China (Embryo or baby bones)
Bayn Dzak, Mongolia (Baby skeletons)
Dzamyu Khond, Mongolia (Baby skeletons)
Fossil info: Protoceratops is known from at least 82 skulls and some skeletons, juvenile to adult.
A skeleton has been found interlocked with that of a Velociraptor. Apparently they died fighting together in a sand storm. Many Protoceratops skeletons come from the fossilized sand dunes where they seem to have been engulfed in the dunes. Some fossils show evidence of Protoceratops trying to “swim” their way out of trouble before the sands overwhelmed them.
Displayed: American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York, USA
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Civic Natural History Museum, Milan, Italy (Tooth Replica)
Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest, Hungary (Replica)
Inner Mongolia Museum, Hohot, Inner Mongolia
Institute of Palaeobiology, Warsaw, Poland
Kitakyushu Museum of Natural History and Human History, Kitakyushyu, Japan
Kyoto Municipal Science Center of Youth, Kyoto, Japan
Mongolian Academy of Science, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
National Museum of Natural History, Paris, France (Skull replica)
National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid, Spain
Natural History Museum, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California
Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria
Palaeontological Museum, Palaeontological Institute, Moscow, Russia
Paleontological Museum University of Oslo, Norway (Skull replica)
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium (Replica)
Saurier Museum, Aathal, Switzerland (Skull replica)
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Frankfurt, Germany (Replica of left part of skeleton)
Hall of fame: One of the best known dinosaurs.
First dinosaur nests and eggs found.
First dinosaur known through every stage of life.
May have been the fastest of all quadruped dinosaurs.
Media appearances: Chased By Dinosaurs (2003)
Dinosaur Planet (2003) (TV)
The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs (2005)
Guess what?: Protoceratops may have lived in burrows in the sand dunes.
The Massachussetts Instititue of Technology has created a walking robotic Protoceratops named “Butch”.
Protoceratops seems to have been so common in the Mongolian desert, that some paleontologists have nick-named it “the sheep of the Cretaceous”.
Protoceratops is named partly (species name: andrewsi) after Roy Chapman Andrews an adventurous fossil hunter. Andrews is said by some to have inspired the movie character Indiana Jones.
Folklorist Adrienne Mayor has suggested that skulls of this dinosaur found by ancient peoples may have been at the root of mythical beasts such as the griffin; the horse-like body with the bird-like beak being particularly notable.