"This is very thrilling," says Stephen Brusatte, an affiliate of the American Museum of Natural History and a doctoral student at Columbia University. "We can say something about how these dinosaurs lived. Interestingly, what we've found seems to be a larger pattern among many dinosaurs that juveniles lived and traveled together in groups."
In 2005, Brusatte and colleagues found and excavated a site that contained multiple Triceratops juveniles in 66-million-year-old rocks in southeastern Montana. The geological evidence suggests that at least three juveniles were deposited at the same time by a localized flood, and this suggests that they were probably living together when disaster struck. This find indicates that Triceratops juveniles congregated in small herds, a social behavior increasingly identified in other dinosaur groups, such as Psittacosaurus, a small cousin of Triceratops that lived in Asia.
"We don't know why they were grouped together or how much time they spent together," says Joshua Mathews of the Burpee Museum of Natural History and Northern Illinois University, who led the project. "Herding together could have been for protection, and our guess is that this wasn't something they did full time."
The site was discovered in 2005 by Burpee Museum volunteer Helmuth Redschlag. Redschlag, a devoted fan of The Simpsons television program, named the bonebed the "Homer Site."
"It's kind of fitting that these big, bulky, plodding Triceratops are named after Homer Simpson," says Brusatte. "But more than anything, we were able to find something shockingly unexpected, even though there are more Triceratops skeletons than [there are of] nearly any other dinosaur, and southeastern Montana has been combed for fossils for hundreds of years." Excavation at the Homer Site is ongoing, and the Burpee Museum team expects to find additional fossils of Triceratops juveniles.
The research is published in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. In addition to Matthews and Brusatte, Scott Williams and Michael Henderson, also of the Burpee Museum of Natural History and Northern Illinois University, are authors.
Adapted from materials provided by American Museum of Natural History, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.