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Nesting Triceratops and its juvenile

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No surprises here. 

Figure 1. Triceratops mount from an auction house. Pectoral girdle repaired. Skull colorized. Dorsal view comes from another specimen – always a dangerous proposition.

Triceratops (Fig. 1, Marsh 1889) and its juvenile (Fig. 2) nest together with Yinlong downsi (Xu et al. 2006) Late Jurassic ~150 mya, ~1.2 m in length; Fig. 3) a primitive bipedal hornless pro-ceratopsian ornithischian, dinosaur, archosaur, archosauriform, archosauromorph, reptile. The large reptile tree is now up to 678 taxa.

Figure 2. Juvenile Triceratops compared to subadult Triceratops (in shadow).

Liike all ornithischians, 
ceratopsians fuse the postfrontal to the frontal. However, in Yinlong, cracks (sutures?) appear where the postfrontal would have appeared and where the orbital horns ultimately appeared. So are the postorbital horns actually derived from postfrontal buds? We won’t know until we can determine a suture from a crack in the ontogenetically youngest and phylogenetically most primiitive specimens. It is also possible that, like the nasal horn, the orbital horns arose from novel ossificatiions that ultimately fused to the underlying bone.

Figure 3. Yinlong skull showing possible postfrontal in the position of the future orbit horns.

Another juvenile nests with its adult counterpart!
Several workers and readers have pointed to studies (sorry, I don’t have the reference here) in which juveniles did NOT nest with adults in morphological analysis. Notably these samples  (as I recall…) came from taxa that metamorphosed during ontogeny, like caterpillars > butterflies and tadpoles > frogs.

In another argument, perhaps reflecting a majority view, a peerJ reviewer expressed concern/fear/trepidation that: – “Finally, I don’t know that a phylogenetic analysis including juvenile specimens alongside adult specimens is going to give you a particularly trustworthy result.“ citing no references, but noting that juvenile hadrosaurs have distinct characters in the skull from adults, which we all know.

Such arguments have been raised whenever I suggested workers include tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs in phylogenetic analyses, especially so since we KNOW that hatchling pterosaurs were virtual copies of adults. Not so with dinosaurs in which the rostrum is shorter and the orbits are larger than in adults. Even with that handicap, the differences, at least in this one case, were not enough to separate adult from juvenile Triceratops, given the present taxon list, which, frankly has no other ceratopsians.

Marsh OC 1898. New species of Ceratopsia. Am J Sci, series 4 6: 92.
Xu X, Forster CA, Clark J M and Mo J 2006. A basal ceratopsian with transitional features from the Late Jurassic of northwestern China. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. First Cite Early Online Publishing. online pdf



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