Which of the triceratops’ distinguishing features—the two huge horns that protrude from its forehead or the massive frill that extends out from the rear of its skull—is more prominent is debatable. It appears to many palaeontologists that these two characteristics go hand in hand. The presence of scars in the bones supporting the frill suggests that, like modern animals like moose, these creatures fought with their horns on a frequent basis, resulting in injuries.
Some of the holes identified in the fossilised remnants of frills can’t be ruled out as a result of other possible reasons. It is possible that some of the holes were caused by decomposition over time or harm inflicted after death. After all, a new study on the “Big John” triceratops skeleton shows that an injury to one of the frill’s bones seems to have begun mending before the animal died, ruling out a few options.
Large bony plates linked with the skull’s bones form the triceratops’ rear frill, which acts as a protective covering for the animal’s brain. For show purposes, they were present in early species of this lineage that did not have conspicuous horns.
It is common to see damage to bone lesions in fossils supporting the frill. It has been hard to pinpoint the source of the injury, although subsequent species’ prominent horns have long been considered a likely candidate. Italian researchers state that “Triceratops regularly met each other in fight in the collective imagination acquired from scientific and popular literature.” Ceratopsids were labelled as “punishing” creatures starting in the second part of the twentieth century.
It appears that this is more than just a popular myth, according to Big John’s latest comments. Big John is a massive triceratops skeleton found in Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, thus the name “Big John.” An unusually huge hole was discovered in a bone supporting the animal’s frill during preparations for the animal’s upcoming sale. Almost 20 centimetres of bone had been pierced by whatever caused the hole.
It is impossible to pinpoint exactly what caused this, but the people preparing the skeleton sacrificed a little bit of it to determine when in the animal’s life it occurred. Many probable causes of this type of bone damage can be ruled out based on the post-injury state of the affected bone..
A sliver of good news.
It was decided to ship a little portion of the hole’s edge to an organisation that specialises in studying the structure of aged bones for further investigation. It was found that the injured area had a different chemical makeup than the neighbouring intact bone, thanks to a technology that detects the components contained in the sample. In addition, the structure itself was unique, with many blood arteries crisscrossing the surface of the object.
In the end, researchers concluded that a newly formed bone near the perimeter of the injury included an area of active remodelling. That eliminates the possibility of these injuries being caused by post-mortem damage, as Big John survived for some time after he was injured. Bone regeneration also excludes the hypothesis that the damage is the consequence of bone deterioration in elderly animals.
Big John’s injuries are more likely to be the result of a battle, but it’s still not able to conclude that he was arguing with a fellow triceratops at the time. A horn might have pierced the frill from behind, which could have occurred during a battle if the animals were moving in tandem.