Header image uni logo
line decor





 You are here: Social Behaviour > Foraging > Ceratopsia


The ceratopsians were exclusively herbivorous, perhaps some insectivorous as well, with complex oral structure. The anterior end of the skull began with a hooked rhamphotheca (presumably for cropping), followed by a diastema, dental batteries in both upper and lower jaws, a sturdy coronoid process, with evidence suggestive of fleshy cheeks supported by strong jaw muscle, as observed in many herbivorous dinosaurs as well as modern herbivorous mammals.

However, unlike the similarly, the ceratopsians seems to have exploited a completely original grinding action for breaking down the plant parts; the hooked rim of the rostral bone, covered by a sharper cornified rhamhotheca allowed the ceratopsians to carefully select out the desirable parts of the plants for diet, which was ground up between the occlusal surfaces of their sturdy dentition. Worn teeth were constantly replaced, so that the active surface of the dental battery was continually refurbished. This unique chewing mechanism is seen throughout the ceratopsians, although the angle of occlusion became more and more vertical, until a near-vertical slicing and dicing along the side of the tooth was achieved. In order to make full use of the complex jaw structure, specific musculature must have also evolved alongside. The muscles in the jaw region crept through the upper temporal opening and onto the base of the frill, with other end of this muscle attached to a great, hulking coronoid process on the mandible.

Much like other quadrupedal ornithischia, the ceratopsians were limited to feeding on relatively low level. Unlike some stegosaurians and sauropods, the stature of the ceratopsians mean that they were not able to rear up on their hind legs, limiting their foraging at around 2m for Triceratops and Torosaurus, two of the largest ceratopsians.

The exact diet of the ceratopsian is still unclear. Although the common consensus is that the ceratopsians feed on hard, cellulose parts of cycads and palms (and possibly ferns), only a limited ceratopsian fossils were ever found with these vegetations. Considering the stature of the ceratopsians, shrubby angiosperms, ferns and perhaps small conifers may have been the principal constituents in their diet, but this is yet to be confirmed. Interestingly, S. Wing and B. Tiffney claims that ceratopsians, along with other herbivorous dinosaurs feeding habits may have contributed to the extraordinary rise of flowering plants during the Late Cretaceous.


Dodson, P. Compaative craniology of the Ceratopsia. American Journal of Science 293-A, 200-234 (1992).
Fastovsky, D.E. & Weishampel, D.B (2005) The Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs(2nd Ed.), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.
Ostrom, J.H. A functional analysis of the jaw mechanics in the dinosaur Triceratops. Postilla 88, 1-35 (1964).
Ostrom J.H. Functional morphology and evolution of ceratopsian dinosaurs. Evolution 20, 290-308 (1966).



© 2008 Earth Sciences, University of Bristol