The world’s largest triceratops was stabbed by a rival

A violent encounter with another dinosaur explains why the skeleton of Big John, the heaviest Triceratops ever discovered, has a huge collar wound, according to a study. This battle must have taken place about 66 million years ago. As for the aggressor, it was probably another Triceratops.

Big John’s injury

The one called Big John would have lived in Laramidia. It is an island continent that once stretched from Alaska to Mexico. This animal is said to have died at the very end of the Cretaceous period, about 66 million years ago, in the ancient floodplain that today forms the Hell Creek geological site in South Dakota (USA).

As the name suggests, Big John, whose remains (about 60% in total) were found in 2014, was a large dinosaur. Actually it was about eight meters long, and his skull was about two meters wide. Two huge horns, almost 1.1 meters long, also stood on his head. According to experts, they could support approximately sixteen tons of pressure.

These huge features led to this iconic dinosaur making headlines last year when its remains were sold for around 6.6 million euros at the Paris auction.

Before it was put up for sale, Big John was taken to Italy for restoration. At the time, Flavio Bacchia, who was in charge of sample preparation, indicated the presence large notch on the right side of the collar animal bones. Realizing that this trauma could tell us a lot about the behavior of these dinosaurs, he surrounded himself with several specialists from Italian universities to analyze the trauma.

Big John Triceratops
The squamosal of Big John with trauma. Credit: Zoik LLC
Big John Triceratops
Side view of Big John’s restored skull. Credit: Zoik LLC

Opponent from behind

Traumatic injuries are approximately twenty centimeters long and five centimeters wide. According to the researchers, this was probably not carried out by a frontal attack. “The location, shape, and size of the lesion suggest that it was caused by the horn of another similarly sized Triceratops.“, emphasizes Ruggiero D’Anastasio from the University G. d’Annunzio in Chieti Pescara.

According to him, the attack is likely comes behind, as indicated by the location of the lesion itself and the shape of the exit hole, which resembles the bullet holes described in court cases. Laboratory tests carried out using horn castings also confirmed this hypothesis.

However, the injury did not kill Big John, at least not immediately. His skeleton is indeed clear signs of recovery bone, although Triceratops died before healing was complete. Based on an analysis of bone remodeling at the site of the lesion compared to the rate of injury healing seen in modern reptiles, the researchers suggest that the animal died. about six months after this attack. “He may have died from an infection after the injury.“, – suggests the paleontologist, –but this is only a hypothesis that needs to be proven“.

The discovery also fits well with the idea that Triceratops lived in social groups. In modern animals that evolve in a similar way, some members of the same group do often collide with each other. Most often, this type of struggle is aimed at establish dominance or territory. So it’s possible that Triceratops would have done the same.

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