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Learning About the Protoceratops Dinosaur

Updated on June 3, 2018
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commons.wikimedia.org (public domain worldwide image) | Source

The Discovery of the Protoceratops

The Protoceratops skeleton was first discovered by Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews was a renowned paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, United States. In 1922, he went on a fossil-hunting expedition in Mongolia, Asia. In the Mongolian desert, he discovered fossil remains of the Protoceratops and fossilized eggs nearby. This was substantial evidence that dinosaurs laid eggs and some of them lived in family groups or herds.

Protoceratops was around the size of a large dog, so it was actually a small dinosaur. It was a herbivore and ate plants, despite the fact that it looked ferocious, with its heavy head, sharp beaked mouth and a large bony frill around its neck. The body of this small dinosaur was heavy with a long thick tail. Protoceratops walked on its four stumpy legs, and when it sensed danger nearby, it was capable to move quite rapidly to escape the predators.

This miniature creature had large strong muscles around its jaws. These muscles actually helped the dinosaur to bite off tough leaves and woody plants along with its hooked beak. It then sliced up the plants with its teeth which looked like sharp scissors. There was a bony frill or shield around its neck. This frill was believed to grew bigger and broader as the Protoceratops grew older. The frill was like a defense weapon. It protected the neck from any attack by the carnivorous dinosaurs. The male Protoceratops may have also used their frills to attract females in the early mating season. Their frills made them look large and powerful, and to ward off rival males.


The expedition in 1922 led by Roy Chapman Andrews in the Gobi Desert, in Mongolia was an extraordinary one. Even the Protoceratop's nests which were unearthed with eggs in them were a remarkable discovery by Andrews. The discovery proved for the first time that dinosaurs laid eggs. As many as 30 eggs were found in one nest. It is unlikely that one female Protoceratops laid so many eggs at once. Experts believe that two or more females may have shared the same nest.


Experts also believe that some of these creatures lived in family groups. This was because several nests have been discovered nearby, so they probably lived in small herds as families. Once the eggs had hatched, the babies which broke out of the shells were around 30 centimeters long. The mothers brought food to the nests until their young babies had grown and matured enough to search for food by themselves.

The skeleton fossils of Protoceratops found in Mongolia range from tiny ones still inside the eggs to small babies and fully grown adults. Some of the adults were slightly different in size because they had different shaped frills and other features may also vary. Experts think that this may be because the males were bigger with larger heads, frills and crests than the females.

Protoceratops had to guard its nests against predators such as the Oviraptor, which means 'egg-stealer'. Dinosaur eggs would have made an ideal meal for it. A fossilized Oviraptor skeleton, with its skull smashed in, was found above a nest of Protoceratops' eggs. Perhaps an angry mother Protoceratops had killed it when it attempted to steal the nest.

commons.wikimedia.org (public domain worldwide image)
commons.wikimedia.org (public domain worldwide image) | Source

Facts on the Protoceratops

1. Protoceratops means 'first horned face'
2. Its average size was about 1.8 meters long and 1 meters high
3. The average weight of the dinosaur was 400kg (900 pounds)
4. Protoceratops belonged to the group of Ceratopsians (Ceratopians)
5. It was a herbivore and ate tough leaves and plants
6. It lived around 110 - 66 million years ago in Mongolia in the Cretaceous period

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