Ceratopsians Dinosaurs horned faces”

Ceratopsia or Ceratopia which in Greek translates to “horned faces” which are a group of dinosaurs that had four distinctive features, these four included; being herbivores, beaks, neck frills and horns. Not all Ceratopsians would have had the fourth feature (horns).

It wasn’t until 1890 that the word “Ceratopsia” was used for the first time to describe this family of dinosaurs, this was some 35 years after the first discovery. This species was first named by Othniel Charles Marsh to combine dinosaurs which had the same key characteristics as previously mentioned. Other features of a dinosaur that would categorise it as a Ceratopsian aside from the more recognisable features included, fused neck vertebrae and a forward-facing pelvis bone.

Ceratopsidae types

MathKnight, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ceratopsian’s dinosaurs would have lived throughout the globe including Europe, Asia and America with species of Ceratopsians living from the Jurassic period right through to the Cretaceous period.  

The Ceratopsians were a very successful species of dinosaur with the earliest Ceratopsians thought to have lived around 155-160 million years ago. The last Ceratopsian species to have lived around the great extinction event some 66 million years ago was the Triceratops


Ceratopsians were first discovered in Montana, USA in 1855 by American geologist F.V. Hayden who was leading an expedition at the time. Unfortunately, at this time only teeth were discovered. The teeth of this Ceratopsians weren’t identified as belonging to a dinosaur of this species until much later.

During another expedition again led by F.V. Hayden in 1872 uncovered several much larger bones. These larger bones allowed scientists to forensically study this dinosaur in much greater detail. It wouldn’t be until 1887 that American palaeontologist, Othniel Charles Marsh discovered the instantly recognisable Triceratops. 

The skulls of particular species of dinosaur are often the best-preserved parts of the body, due to the sheer size and density of the bone found on the head of Ceratopsians.

Some lesser-known Ceratopsians discoveries have only uncovered the skull, which is often the opposite case for many dinosaur skeleton discoveries. To this day, fossilised remains of Triceratops in the West of the USA are the most common discoveries in areas with rocky terrain that dates back to the Cretaceous period.

How big were Ceratopsians?

Ceratopsians came in many shapes and sizes. Ceratopsians ranged from the very small Gryphoceratops which was 1m in length (3ft) and weighed up to 23kg, to the massive Triceratops which could get to over 9 meters in length (30 ft) and weigh as much as 9,000kg (+20,000 lb). The images below show the sizes that Ceratopsians could reach.

How big were Ceratopsidae or horned dinosaurs?

User:Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some Ceratopsians had large heads

As already mentioned, the head of Ceratopsians are the most distinctive feature of this dinosaur species. Ceratopsians predominantly had beaked mouths which can be best described as ‘parrot-like’ with rows of teeth at the back of the mouth to help break down vegetation. 

What were HEAD FrillS used for?

Though the heads of Ceratopsians varied from sub family or subspecies they each had horns and a frill. It is hypothesised that these large frills might have served more than one purpose. First hypothesis is that the head frills were to protect the neck area from large carnivores theropods. The second theory around the usage of the frills was for display purposes. 

The purpose even to this day is not entirely clear. Some scientists believe that these frills were used in defense against large theropods however, this theory in the case of Ceratopsidae or ceratopsids is that some of the frills were pretty fragile, and would not have given any protection against an attack.

Other theories around so much variation in the frills could have also been around mating, and due to resounding evidence around these animals living in herds could have been used to mark male and female dominance.

Now, that could mean from mating perspective to attract females or to ascertain dominance from a rival male (for example). It is also theorised that these frills in some species of Ceratopsians may have been brightly coloured. 

Ceratopsidae skulls

Danny Cicchetti, modified by User:MathKnight, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

NOT ALL Ceratopsians HAD HORNS

Not all species or sub families of Ceratopsians had horns and if they did have horns, they didn’t necessarily have three horns. For example, Triceratops was part of a much larger group of dinosaurs called Ceratopsidae in which dinosaurs such as Centrosaurus had only one large horn around the nose area like a modern-day Rhino, whereas Styracosaurus may have had up to eight large horns on their head.

Some Ceratopsians didn’t have large horns or in some cases no horns at all. For example, Protoceratops had a beaked mouth and a neck frill, but no prominent horns such as those found on Ceratopsians such as Styracosaurus.

Centrosaurus skull

Sainterx, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ceratopsidae or ceratopsids?

Triceratops and Styracosaurus were part of a sub family of Ceratopsians called Ceratopsidae or ceratopsids. This large group featured some of the most fascinating horned dinosaurs that ever walked the earth. These dinosaurs all had large horns on the end of their noses, short and much more shapely neck frills and some particular species had large spines around the top of the neck fril.

Each of the ceratopsidae or ceratopsids had frills which is of course common in these types of dinosaurs, however what’s fascinating about this particular species of Ceratopsians is that for each separate species the frills varied massively. Scientists aren’t a hundred percent sure as to why they varied so much between each species but one theory is that it could have allowed different species to recognise each other.

With such a varied difference in frills particularly in Ceratopsidae or ceratopsids it has led scientists to hypothesise extensively around the topic of the frills since the first discovery of such a wide range of Ceratopsidae or ceratopsids frills.  

ceratopsians species

Let’s discuss some of the most recognisable types of dinosaur from this particular ceratopsians species. 


Styracosaurus was one of the most impressive Ceratopsians. Styracosaurus is believed to have  been approximately 5.5m (18 ft) in length and would weigh as much as 2.7 tonnes. By now you’ll be fully aware that the heads of this particular dinosaur species were very large, and the skull of Styracosaurus was no exception. Styracosaurus had an extremely large horn on its nose which has been recorded at lengths of around 57cm (22 inches) long.

Styracosaurus also had one of the most impressive (and dangerous) neck frills of any Ceratopsians.  Styracosaurus had a minimum of four spikes or horns around the frill, with some of the best discoveries having at least six spikes on the frill. Each spike being around 50 to 55 centimeters (20 to 22 inches) in length, would have made this particular dinosaur appear incredible menacing.


Nobu Tamura (http://spinops.blogspot.com), CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Next up let’s talk about the most famous and instantly recognisable Ceratopsians, Triceratops. Triceratops was a large and very powerful dinosaur that weighed as much as five rhinos and was around 9 meters long and 3 meters high. 

Triceratops’ head was huge! Its head was around 2 meters in length and on top of it is where it had three massive spikes. Two were located above its eye sockets which were up to 1 meter long and nose its horn was around 18cm (7 inches) in length.

It would have been an incredible sight to have seen. A charging Rhino is very dangerous so can you imagine how terrifying being charged from an animal nearly three times its size would have been? We have an entire page where you can discover more about triceratops right here.


DataBase Center for Life Science (DBCLS), CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The greek name meaning “small horn face” Leptoceratopsidae didn’t have large horns found on Ceratopsians such as triceratops, instead they had two small horns, one on each side of the face in the cheek area. In terms of features Leptoceratopsidae looked very similar to other Ceratopsians having many of the distinctive features recognisable of this particular dinosaur species.

In terms of size, Leptoceratopsidae were a lot smaller than their much larger cousins being around  two meters in length. Leptoceratopsidae also had a neck frill, that may have offered some level of protection from predators or to ascertain dominance during the mating season.


The Children's Museum of Indianapolis Etemenanki3 Hectonichus Etemenanki3, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leptoceratopsidae also had a large beaked mouth allowing it to eat vegetation, with rows of teeth at the back of the mouth to break down its food.  Leptoceratopsidae was also classed as a Quadrupedal and bipedal which in simpler terms means that this dinosaur could walk on four or two legs, which is quite unique to this subspecies of Ceratopsians.

Leptoceratopsidae lived in the Late Cretaceous period and fossilised remains have been found in Asia, North America and Europe.


Up to 11 separate species have been categorised as being a Psittacosaurus, which makes it one of the largest single named groups of dinosaurs. Psittacosaurus as a species was first named in 1923 Henry Fairfield Osborn. Psittacosaurus is a genus of the much larger ceratopsian dinosaurs closely related to triceratops.  Psittacosaurus would have lived in the early Cretaceous period around 100-126  million years ago in what is now classed as Asia. 

Psittacosaurus as an adult would walk on two legs (biped), with a distinctive  skull and like other species related to Ceratopsians, a large beaked mouth. One fossilised specimen of Psittacosaurus has been found preserved with long thick feathers or hair like filaments on the tail, these filaments were only located on the tail, with the rest of the body covered in reptile skin.

So many discoversios (literally hundreds) of Psittacosaurus have been made right from eggs to fully grown adults. This has allowed this particular species of dinosaur to be one of the best scientifically studied. 

Psittacosaurus size and features: Psittacosaurus came in many different sizes, and each of the 11 separate identified species did vary around the skull area. The most popular Psittacosaurus is P. mongoliensis which could reach around 2 metres (6.5ft) in length.

Psittacosaurus types

Nobu Tamura (http://spinops.blogspot.com), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Psittacosaurus did not have a frill around their neck area like other Ceratopsians. Their heads (as you’ll see in the image) were flat on top, with two horns found on the cheek area, which is similar to the already discussed Leptoceratopsidae.


Below is a list of Ceratopsians that make up the most of the major group. This list will be updated as soon as a new specimen is discovered. In the meantime, you can start discovering more information about the individual types of Theropods by clicking the links below: 



Last Updated on 14/07/2022 by