An Ultimate Guide to Pentaceratops: The Five-Horned Face

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 20th September 2023

Name Meaning“Five-horned face”Height3 meters (10 feet)
PronunciationPENT-ah-SER-ah-topsLength5.5-7 meters (18-23 feet)
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight2.5 tons (5,500 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Ornithischia & Ceratopsia LocationNew Mexico, United States

Pentaceratops Pictures

Computer generated 3D illustration with the dinosaur Pentaceratops isolated on white background
3D illustration of Pentaceratops | MR1805 via iStock

The Pentaceratops

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Pentaceratops Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Pentaceratops Concept

Pentaceratops is a genus of ceratopsian dinosaurs that lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous period.

This herbivore dinosaur was alive roughly 76 to 73 million years ago. Fossils of this dinosaur were first discovered in 1921 by Charles Hazelius Sternberg.

The generic name translates as “five-horned face,” a reference to the large skull and five-head adornments of this dinosaur. 

Pentaceratops is known from as many as 12 individual, fairly-complete fossils and has been succinctly described.

Pentaceratops 3D Illustration
Pentaceratops 3D Illustration | CoreyFord via iStock

As a result, this dinosaur is one of the best-known members of the ceratopsid family.

One interesting fact about the Pentaceratops is that it had one of the largest heads seen in any land animal so far.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the other fascinating facts about this Late Cretaceous dinosaur and its significance to scientific research. 

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection

Physical Characteristics

Pentaceratops was a medium-sized ceratopsian dinosaur.

It was roughly the size of a buffalo, which is relatively small compared to some of its relatives that lived around the same period, such as the Triceratops and Utahceratops.

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Pentaceratops Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Pentaceratops Size Comparison Chart

Pentaceratops was a classic ceratopsian (horned face) dinosaur.

As such, the most distinct feature of this dinosaur was its massive head adorned with horns of different sizes. 

The Pentaceratops had the largest head seen in any ceratopsid dinosaur, or any prehistoric animal for that matter.

The head alone measured up to three meters (10 feet) from the tip of its beak to the top of its frill.

Experts think the Pentaceratops skull was able to grow that big because it had an enlarged fenestra (a skull gap) which gave it the appearance of a frame instead of a solid piece of bone.

The gap in the frill was covered by a thin growth of skin tissue. 

The massive skull was decorated by imposing horny projections. Despite what the dinosaur’s name suggests, the Pentaceratops didn’t exactly have five horns.

It did have five horn-like projections on its face, but only three of these were actual horns.

There were two big horns above its eyes and a smaller one on the end of its snout.

The last two projections were simply outgrowths of the dinosaur’s cheekbones. 

Pentaceratops Skeleton Restoration
Pentaceratops Skeleton Restoration | Vince Smith via License

While other ceratopsian dinosaurs had these same cheekbones, those of the Pentaceratops were more pointy rather than rounded.

The snout horn of this dinosaur pointed backward while the brow horns, which were considerably longer, curved strongly forward. 

Pentaceratops was a large dinosaur but still small by ceratopsid standards.

The dinosaur’s estimated body length is between 5.5 meters to seven meters (18 feet to 20 feet), and it might have weighed as much as 2.5 tons (5,500 pounds).

It stood roughly 10 feet tall (three meters) at the hips.

It had a wide torso and a bulky body supported by column-like limbs with hoof-like claws on their ends.

Habitat and Distribution

Pentaceratops lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous period, around 76 to 73 million years ago.

The Kirtland Formation in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico, United States, is the most notable site of this dinosaur’s discovery.

The dinosaur’s home range may have extended from New Mexico to Colorado. 

Back in the Cretaceous, this dinosaur was found in a coastal plain located on the inland seashore of North America.

The fertile plain was drained by several river channels and had an abundance of vegetation for this herbivore dinosaur to feed on.

Late Cretaceous North America was characterized by a warm and humid climate.

The continent was situated closer to the equator, which resulted in a tropical or subtropical climate.

Until the more recent discovery of the Titanoceratops in the same region, Pentaceratops was the only ceratopsian known from this region of New Mexico during the Late Cretaceous period.

Titanoceratops (formerly thought to be a specimen of Pentaceratops) at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History
Titanoceratops (formerly thought to be a specimen of Pentaceratops) at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History | Image via License

While there were several other ceratopsians in the Americas, many of them lived in more southward locations as far as Mexico. 

Behavior and Diet 

Like other ceratopsids, Pentaceratops was a quadrupedal dinosaur, meaning it walked on all four legs.

This dinosaur’s broad and sturdy limbs supported its wide torso. Although it could move swiftly with quick bursts of speed, Pentaceratops was generally slow-moving.

It probably didn’t have to move around a lot since most of its food would have been available within the same area. 

There is no evidence to indicate that the Pentaceratops exhibited herding behavior.

Scientists think they were largely solitary, although occasional encounters would have occurred between individuals within the area or during mating season.

The large frill and prominent nasal horns probably served the purpose of species recognition, display, and territorial defense.

Pentaceratops was a herbivorous dinosaur.

3D illustration of 2 Pentaceratops looking for food
3D illustration of 2 Pentaceratops looking for food | MR1805 via iStock

It had a parrot-like beak and powerful jaws filled with several cheek teeth.

During the Late Cretaceous, the area where this dinosaur lived had an abundance of ferns, cycads, and conifers as the dominant flora.

Flowering plants were also starting to emerge, but they would have been limited to the landscape. 

This dinosaur would have used its sharp beak to bite off foliage from these plants, which were then chewed and shredded in its tooth batteries.

It had a large gut capable of digesting such tough plant materials.

Since it was a medium-sized dinosaur, Pentaceratops probably obtained its food by grazing or browsing on low-lying plants. 

Life Cycle 

The life cycle of the Pentaceratops is slightly difficult to trace because no nesting site or notable juvenile individuals have been found for the genus.

However, our knowledge of the lifecycle of other ceratopsids provides a glimpse into what the Pentaceratops’ lifecycle may have looked like. 

This dinosaur reproduced sexually, with mating between male and female individuals probably occurring during specific breeding seasons.

A male and female Pentaceratops
A male and female Pentaceratops | CoreyFord via iStock

Juveniles hatched from eggs and were probably cared for by their parents. 

Pentaceratops juveniles probably underwent significant growth and development during their years.

Hatchlings were smaller, and their notable features, such as the frills and horns, were in smaller proportions compared to full-sized adults.

These features would become more pronounced as the dinosaur reached maturity. 

Evolution and History

Pentaceratops belongs to the Ceraptosia suborder.

Members of this group are known for their distinctive frills, horns, and other head ornaments.

The group’s evolution can be traced back to the Late Jurassic period, although they became more diversified during the Cretaceous. 

Pentaceratops is a member of the Chasmosaurinae subfamily, which includes close cousins like the Triceratops.

Group of triceratops walks in the valley . This is a 3d render illustration
Pentaceratops’ famous cousin the Triceratops | ALLVISIONN via iStock

Older ceratopsians were smaller and had less prominent cranial ornamentation.

The elaborate frills and multiple horns are only seen in younger forms like Pentaceratops.

The change in head ornamentation is the most distinct morphological change observed in members of this family as they evolved. 

The function of the head ornament and the reason why dinosaurs like the Pentaceratops developed them is still a subject of debate in the scientific community.

While these features may have initially evolved for protection, the nature of the frills in later groups like the Pentaceratops suggests a different use.

This dinosaur, in particular, had large frills with a U-shaped fenestrae.

This space-saving design suggests that the frills would have offered no protective value to the dinosaur.

Pentaceratops Dinosaur on white background
Pentaceratops possessed an impressive head ornament | Kitti Kahotong via iStock

As a result, scientists have proposed other reasons for evolving the head ornaments, such as sexual display and species recognition. 

In terms of fossil history, the first remains of the Pentaceratops were discovered in 1921 by Charles Stenberg.

The find consisted of cranial bones and a piece of the hipbone.

Over the next few years, Sternberg would recover several other specimens from the same area in New Mexico that were used to describe the genus. 

Interactions With Other Species

The Kirtland Formation, where the Pentaceratops was found, is home to various dinosaur groups that shared the same habitat.

As a herbivore, Pentaceratops would have had a predator-prey relationship with the large carnivores in its ecosystem.

It would have also competed with other plant-eating dinosaurs for food and other resources. 

Given its size of up to seven meters, fully-grown Pentaceratops individuals would have had very few predators to worry about.

One potential predator within the same region is the snouted Bistahieversor, a type of tyrannosaurid dinosaur active during the Late Cretaceous in the New Mexico area. 

Bistahieversor sealeyi hunting Pentaceratops sternbergii
Bistahieversor sealeyi hunting Pentaceratops sternbergii | ABelov2014 via License

Fossil evidence shows that both dinosaurs would have been around the same size (Bistahieversor was slightly longer), which means adults would have been equally matched.

As a result, the carnivore may have targeted juveniles or weak individuals if it hunted Pentaceratops at all. 

Pentaceratops also shared a habitat with herbivores like the Parasaurolophus, Sphaerotholus, and Nodocephalosaurus.

These plant-eating dinosaurs may have fed on similar food sources as the Pentaceratops.

While they probably lived peacefully alongside each other during periods of abundance, encounters between them would have been less friendly when resources were scarce. 

Cultural Significance 

Dinosaurs in the Ceratopsian group are among the most recognizable dinosaurs ever found.

The enormous and elaborately-adorned skulls of these dinosaurs make them quite iconic, and they’re known to everyone from paleontologists to hobbyists and non-specialists.

These cranial features are often the most studied in individuals found within the group since it tends to vary from one genus to the other. 

Pentaceratops is famous for the same reason too.

This dinosaur had one of the largest heads seen in any dinosaur so far, making it quite an interesting subject for scientific research.

Computer generated 3D illustration with the Dinosaur Pentaceratops
Arguably the most impressive head in the dinosaur kingdom | MR1805 via iStock

The five-horned face dinosaur is also well-studied. Up to a dozen fossils of this dinosaur have been found so far, providing an in-depth understanding of the anatomical features of this dinosaur. 

This knowledge has also promoted our understanding of general ceratopsid morphology.

The Pentaceratops’ unique horn arrangement and frill are particularly interesting to scientists who have studied it to shed more light on the purpose, functionality, and evolution of these distinctive features in the ceratopsian dinosaurs. 

In pop culture, while the Pentaceratops itself has not been featured on the big screens, related and similar ceratopsian dinosaurs like the Triceratops have made appearances in various media. 

Pentaceratops itself has been featured in documentaries, museum exhibitions, and books about dinosaurs.

The distinctive appearance of Pentaceratops makes this dinosaur a fascinating creature that continues to capture the imagination of everyone. 


Pentaceratops was a medium-to-large-sized quadrupedal dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous.

Like many of its close relatives, the five-horned face dinosaur is known for its massive head frills and unique horn arrangements.

But despite the fearsome appearance, Pentaceratops, like its other cousins, was a herbivore that depended on plant materials within its North American home range. 

While it may not be as recognizable as other Late Cretaceous ceratopsians like the Triceratops, Pentaceratops still hold scientific significance.

Studying this dinosaur has contributed to our understanding of the remarkable diversity of the dinosaurs within the ceratopsian group and the changes they underwent as they evolved.

And with further studies, we hope to learn more about this intriguing dinosaur genus.


Does Pentaceratops have five horns?

No. Contrary to what the name suggests, Pentaceratops did not have five horns.

It had only three genuine horns.

The two big projections on the side of its face that are often regarded as horns are simply protrusions of the cheekbones.  

What were the closest relatives of Pentaceratops?

Pentaceratops belonged to the subfamily Chasmosaurinae within the ceratopsian group.

This group includes other horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Torosaurus, and Chasmosaurus.

However, the closest relative of the Pentaceratops is the Utahceratops.

What does the name “Pentaceratops” mean?

The name “Pentaceratops” comes from the Greek words “penta,” meaning “five,” and “keras,” meaning “horn,” referring to the dinosaur’s distinctive arrangement of five horns.

Where and when was Pentaceratops discovered?

Pentaceratops fossils have been discovered in the southwestern United States, specifically in the states of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

The dinosaur lived during the Late Cretaceous period, approximately 76 to 73 million years ago.


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