You may recognize the Ceratopsidae family by one of its most popular dinosaurs, the Triceratops. Also called Ceratopsians, there are about 60 species that we know of or have discovered. It’s believed that most of these ancient beasts lived during the Late Cretaceous period.
In this article, we’ll showcase the top qualities of the Ceratopsidae family, what their behavior was, which genera fell beneath it, and so much more. You’ll also see our list of the top Ceratopsians, ending off with a few questions people always ask.
What is the Ceratopsidae Family?
The Ceratopsian dinosaurs were quadrupedal herbivores from the Ornithischia order during the Late Cretaceous. Most of the fossils found were discovered in North America. There are two main sub-families, which we’ll discuss more a bit later. Top names in the Ceratopsidae family include Triceratops, Pachyrhinosaurus, Centrosaurus, and Styracosaurus.
Which characteristics define Ceratopsidae?
The most spectacular trait of the Ceratopsians was the large shelf extending beyond the skull into the frills we love today. When we discuss the two main sub-families later, you’ll see that the chief differences are in this characteristic. Of course, they also go hand-in-hand with lengthy nasal horns, much like the modern rhinoceros.
Two other features of the Ceratopsidae family are the beaks and the back jaw’s rows of teeth. They could break even the toughest foliage, while the shearing teeth were used for chomping. With the advanced dentition, they could consume plant material that was high in fiber.
There’s a debate among scientists as to whether Ceratopsians were social dinosaurs. Many believe that they lived in herds for protection and company. Others believe the herding was only seasonal, and that they would go on their own way during some parts of the year. Bonebed fossils lead to the idea that these dinos may have migrated together at one point.
The Sub-Families of the Ceratopsidae Family
You’ll notice we have a separate section on Ancient Beasts that deals with dinosaur genera. We’ll briefly mention the Ceratopsian genera in a moment. For now, we want to touch on the sub-families they belong to and what sets them apart from each other.
The Centrosaurs had long rectangular frills with ornamental spikes up the ridges. There were prominent nasal bosses or horns, while you may have found short horns just above the temporal bones. Even the snout has a different shape to those of other Ceratopsians.
Many popular Centrosaurine dinosaurs you may recognize are Pachyrhinosaurus, Avaceratops, Styracosaurus, and Sinoceratops. Two sub-groups in this section of the Ceratopsidae family are Nasutoceratopsini and Eucentrosaura, but you’ll find many genera and species that don’t fall within either of them.
The Chasmosaurs had triangular frills with no spinal ornamentation, while they had prominent brows with short horns. The frills also had small hornlets along some of the edges. The sub-family is richer in species than the Centrosaurs and may have had a larger population than most other dinosaurs.
Popular Chasmosaurine names you’ll probably know are Triceratops, Titanoceratops, Chasmosaurus, and Pentaceratops. The only sub-group is Triceratopsini tribe, which features most of the Triceratopsian Chasmosaurs. These featured genera such as Eotriceratops, Torosaurus, and a few others.
Genera within Ceratopsidae
There are many Ceratopsian genera within the family, some of which we haven’t mentioned yet. We don’t want to go into too much detail here, as we want to cover each one separately on our site. Please note that scientists have some doubts about the listed genera.
For now, here’s a quick summary of the Ceratopsidae genera:
What are Some Dinosaur Examples of the Ceratopsidae Family?
We’ve already mentioned some of the more popular Ceratopsian dinosaurs. Many of these names were made famous by movies and video games, especially from the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World brands. Here’s a quick selection of the top examples of the Ceratopsidae family, but we’ll have more detailed articles on them to come.
You knew we’d start with this one. The Triceratops Chasmosaurines lived in the Late Cretaceous period during the late Maastrichtian age. The name stands for “three-horned face”, and anyone that’s seen images of this genus will know why. If you haven’t, it’s for the singular horn on the snout and the two horns above the brow.
For many years, scientists believed that the Triceratops’ frill and horns were purely for defensive reasons. Latest studies on dinosaur mating rituals suggest that another purpose was to attract mates or clash with rival males. It’s certainly one of the most popular dinos in the entertainment industry.
Another famous Chasmosaur is the genus that lends the sub-family its name. Chasmosaurus means “opening lizard”, which refers to the massive fenestrae (openings) in the frill. As an interesting fact, scientists had originally named it Protosaurus until they discovered they had already given that name to a different genus.
All fossil specimens we have today originated from Canada in the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta. There are three distinct species within the Chasmosaurus genus. I originally encountered this dinosaur in the virtual environment when playing Jurassic World Evolution. It desperately needs to arrive in ARK Survival Evolved so I can tame it.
If Triceratops means “three-horned face”, it should come as no surprise that Pentaceratops means “five-horned face.”The first type species to be named was P. sternbergii. The formation of the five horns are one on the nose, two on the brow, and two on the jugal bones.
While other discoveries suggested other species in the genus, further study established that it was the same. The plants it enjoyed eating during the Late Cretaceous included cycads, ferns, and low-growing conifers. Its massive teeth and beak were strong enough to break off the needles without too much of a struggle.
Now that we’ve looked at three Chasmosaurs, let’s look at some Centrosaurs. I’ll start with my favorite, the Pachyrhinosaurus. The name means “thick-nosed lizard”, given due to the large bosses on the head. The nose had the most prominent one, but there were two smaller ones above the eyes.
There are three known species, and our top selection is P. Canadensis which was the first one found. For the most part, the three species are differentiated by the ornaments on the nasal boss. The Pachyrhinosaurus also had two massive horns that pointed backwards and down on the frill. However, this horn display also varied among the species.
The name Styracosaurus means “spiked lizard”. The main characteristic that makes it popular is that it had four to six long spikes on the frill, making it a dangerous enemy during the Late Cretaceous. With the way its dental batteries were aligned, it could easily slice up plant matter within a matter of seconds. Scientists believe it lived in herds due to fossils found in a bonebed.
This Centrosaur had a long nose with a big nostril, and there was a lengthy horn on the nose. The frill was usually crowned with four spikes on either side, putting on an almighty display. In some cases, specimens had a third row of spikes on the frill.
In an interesting twist of dino-naming, Sinoceratops stands for “Chinese horned face.” The main reason is that three skulls have been found in China. Not only was it the largest known Centrosaur of its time, but it’s also one of the only Ceratopsians found outside North America.
The Sinoceratops is believed to have lived among Zhuchengtitan, Zhuchengceratops, and Zhuchengtyrannus in the Zhucheng region of China. There was a hooked horn on its nose, while the frills had hornlets that pointed forward. It had a shorter frill than most Ceratopsians, but it wasn’t any less exquisite.
How does Ceratopsidae fit into the 7 major dinosaur groups?
Believe it or not, the Ceratopsians are big names in the dinosaur kingdom. When you look at the seven major dino groups, they’re actually listed as the main sect on their own. That’s how significant scientists believed the family and population were, based on discovered fossils.
The seven major dinosaur groups are:
While Ornithischia is an order on its own, you can see that Ceratopsians stand on their own legs apart from Ornithopods and Pachycephalosaurs, amongst others. Now you know why the entertainment industry makes such a big deal about them.
Top Questions about the Ceratopsians
Whether it’s for academic purposes or idle curiosity, there are plenty of questions about the Ceratopsidae family. We’ve presented as many of them as we could find here below, but we’re sure there are many more. Keep an eye out for when our Ancient Beasts Academy goes live, where you’ll be able to ask our experts any questions.
How many Ceratopsian species are there?
Did Ceratopsians have teeth?
What was the first Ceratopsian?
What is the biggest Ceratopsian?
What was the smallest Ceratopsian?
Did all Ceratopsians have horns?
Why do Ceratopsians have frills?
Are Ceratopsians sauropods?
Which group of dinosaurs are most closely related to the Ceratopsians?
How do Ceratopsians differ from other Marginocephalians?
Final Thoughts on the Ceratopsidae Family
It’s undeniable that the Ceratopsidae family has plenty of dinosaurs that people love and adore. Triceratops might be the most popular, but there are many more with outstanding features. My favorite is the Pachyrhinosaurus, mainly because of how beautiful it is across all features, including the frill and spine horns.
Do you have a favorite Ceratopsian? Even if it’s Triceratops, we’d love to hear which one you adore and why. Please share it with us in the comments and engage with us in discussion around these amazing ancient beasts.