An Ultimate Guide to Styracosaurus: The Spiked Lizard

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Name Meaning“Spiked Lizard”Height1.8 meters (5.9 feet) 
Pronunciationsty-RAK-oh-sore-usLength5–5.5 meters (16–18 feet) 
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight1.8–2.7 metric tons (3968-5952lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Ornithischia, & Ceraptosia LocationCanada, USA (North America)

Styracosaurus Pictures

Styracosaurus | Sebastian Kaulitzki via GettyImages

The Styracosaurus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Styracosaurus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Styracosaurus Concept

Styracosaurus is a genus of ceratopsian dinosaurs that lived during the Cretaceous about 75.5 to 74.5 million years ago.

Also known as the “spiked lizard” due to the menacing-looking horns and frills on its head, Styracosaurus was one of the most impressive dinosaurs in a family known for very elaborate head displays.

Although not as large as many of the biggest ceratopsians of its day, Styracosaurus was still a massive beast with a 3-ton weight. 

‬Styracosaurus is one of the most recognizable ceratopsian dinosaurs.

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

The dinosaur has been featured in several movies, documentaries, and games. Paleontologist C.M. Sternberg collected the first fossil of Styracosaurus in Canada back in 1913.

It was one of several dinosaurs that have been recovered from the famous Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta. 

Since then, this dinosaur has been severally studied, and two species have been identified in the genus so far.

Although fossil material is limited, there’s a lot we have learned from this dinosaur and many more interesting facts to be uncovered. 

Physical Characteristics

Illustration of a styracosaurus
Illustration of a styracosaurus | Sciepro via GettyImages

Styracosaurus belongs to the family Ceratopsidae, a group that includes other famous dinosaurs like Triceratops and Pentaceratops, all known for their large frills and multiple horns, and this dinosaur was not an exception.

The most distinct feature of the Styracosaurus was its massive skull which was heavily decorated with a large frill and several horns. 

The frill was a bony structure that extended from the back of the dinosaur skull all the way around the neck area.

The frill was extra long compared to other ceratopsian dinosaurs and was adorned with about six long spikes. 

Each of the backward curving spikes measured between 50 and 55 centimeters (20 to 22 inches) in length.

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

The two largest spikes were located at the top of the frill, while the others were arranged symmetrically on each side.

It also has two very small horns (one above each eye) and a single long horn protruding from its nose.

The nasal horn was at least 57 centimeters (22 inches) long. 

It is worth noting that the overall arrangement of the head adornment tends to vary in the Styracosaurus specimens discovered so far.

This might have been a function of gender, age, or species.

Illustration of a Styracosaurus dinosaur skeletal structure
Illustration of a Styracosaurus dinosaur skeletal structure | Roger Harris via GettyImages

For instance, while subadults had prominent brow horns, this was missing and replaced by pits in adults. 

Although smaller than its relatives like the Triceratops or Titanoceratops, Styracosaurus was still a large dinosaur.

It measured up to five meters from the tip of its nose to its tail and weighed as much as three tons.

The dinosaur was about 1.8 meters (six feet) tall at the hips.

It was heavily built with a barrel-shaped torso similar to a rhinoceros and thick, squat legs to support its bulky body. 

Habitat and Distribution

Styracosaurus lived in what is now North America during the Late Cretaceous period.

The geographic range of this dinosaur would have extended across parts of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, all the way to Montana, Wyoming, and other regions of the western United States.

Fossil discoveries suggest that Styracosaurus lived in a relatively restricted area within these regions.

During the Late Cretaceous, when this dinosaur was alive, the North American continent had a warm climate that supported a very diverse ecosystem.

The climate was generally temperate, with some variations depending on latitude and local geography.

North America had vast inland seas with a shallow continental interior.

Styracosaurus dinosaur walking in the desert by day
Styracosaurus dinosaur walking in the desert by day | Elena Duvernay via GettyImages

The Western Interior Seaway divided the continent into eastern and western landmasses (Appalachia and Larimidia).

Styracosaurus lived in the western landmass, which was home to diverse ecosystems. 

Most of the Styracosaurus fossils discovered so far were found in the Dinosaur Park formation.

Paleoecology studies suggest that the area was home to several other ceratopsian dinosaurs and other animal groups.

Styracosaurus lived in an area characterized by coastal plains, river systems, floodplains, and forested areas.

Behavior and Diet

A herd of Styracosaurus dinosaurs confronting a carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex during the Cretaceous period.
A herd of Styracosaurus dinosaurs confronting a carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex during the Cretaceous period | Mark Stevenson via GettyImages

Styracosaurus was a quadrupedal dinosaur, meaning it walked on all fours.

However, scientists have proposed various limb positions for this dinosaur.

The most recent theory is that it walked in an intermediate crouched position.

Because the hind legs were slightly longer than its front legs, this dinosaur would have a sort of inclined posture.

Some scientists also think Styracosaurus could move in shallow water, although it primarily moved on land. 

Like other ceratopsians, Styracosaurus may have lived in herds or groups.

Paleontologists have found bone beds containing the remains of hundreds of ceratopsian individuals, which supports the theory that they lived in groups or at least in close proximity to each other. 

A mixed herd of Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus dinosaurs, which often merged together for safety from predators.
A mixed herd of Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus dinosaurs, which often merged together for safety from predators | Michelle Dessi via GettyImages

Herding behavior is common in herbivorous animals because it offers a significant advantage for the group regarding protection against predators and foraging efficiency.

The presence of elaborate frill and horns on the Styracosarus’ head is another evidence of possible herding behavior.

They may have used their head adornments for species recognition, courtship rituals, dominance displays, or territorial defense.

Styracosaurus was a herbivorous dinosaur, as evidenced by its possession of a beaked jaw which was useful for grasping and plucking plant material.

It likely fed on a variety of vegetation, including low-lying plants, ferns, cycads, palms, and conifers that were abundant in its Late Cretaceous environment. 

The position of the dinosaur’s head suggests that it mostly fed on low-growing plants.

But it isn’t uncommon for bulky animals to knock down taller plants to access foliage.

Styracosaurus had rows of huge chisel-shaped teeth. These were well-suited for slicing through plant material but not for grinding.

Life Cycle 

A flock of Pterodactylus reptiles flies above two Styracosaurus dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period of Alberta, Canada.
A flock of Pterodactylus reptiles flies above two Styracosaurus dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period in Alberta, Canada | StockTrek Images via GettyImages

Styracosaurus, like other dinosaurs, is believed to have reproduced sexually.

Since they lived in social groups, mating likely occurred between individuals within the herd, possibly during specific breeding seasons.

Although the horns and frills of the Styracosaurus may have served the purpose of defending the dinosaur against predators, many scientists believe that they were also used for visual display during courtship.

They may have also helped male dinosaurs to establish dominance or even for intraspecies combat. 

Young Styracosaurus individuals likely required parental care and had the protection of their herd during their early stages of years.

Styracosaurus dinosaurs call out to each other as a sandstorm comes to an end.
Styracosaurus dinosaurs call out to each other as a sandstorm comes to an end | Mark Stevenson via GettyImages

As they grew, they would have gone through a period of rapid growth characterized by a significant change in size, overall body proportions, and specific anatomical features.

This includes the elongation of limbs and the development of long frills and horns.

The size and shape of the frill and horns would have likely transformed as the individual matured.

Fossil evidence shows that juveniles had smaller and less elaborate structures compared to fully grown adults.

Evolution and History 

A charging Styracosaurus.
A charging Styracosaurus | Kurt Miller via GettyImages

Styracosaurus belongs to the family Ceratopsidae, a group that evolved during the Late Jurassic period and flourished during the Cretaceous.

These horned dinosaurs began their evolution in Asia about 160 million years ago.

From there, they were dispersed to North America roughly 110 million years ago and appeared in Europe about 85 million years ago. 

The earliest members of the Ceratopsian group were small and bipedal.

The frills and elaborate facial horns that later species were known for were also absent in the primitive species.

Gigantic ceratopsian species with frills and horns only began to emerge during the Cretaceous period.

They were among the most dominant dinosaur groups that lived on Laramidia, a huge island formed on the western end of the North American continent.

A herd of Styracosaurus bathing in the river
A herd of Styracosaurus bathing in the river | Michelle Dessi via GettyImages

The coastal plain of Laramidia supported a huge diversity of giant herbivores like this, including Styracosaurus and other Ceratopsian dinosaurs. 

Scientists believe the size and nature of the head ornaments of the ceratopsids continued to change as they evolved.

Styracosaurus had bigger frills and more horns but was significantly smaller than later ceratopsids like the Triceratops.

The herding behavior of the group changed over the years too.

While Styracosaurus is believed to have congregated in herds, Centrosaurus, which lived about one million years earlier, was even more social.

Interestingly, Triceratops, which was among the last members of the family, was largely solitary. 

Since Styracosaurus was alive for up to a decade before the K/T Extinction, the group is believed to have evolved into other ornately equipped ceratopsians, such as Einiosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus, during the late Cretaceous. 

Interactions With Other Species

Tyrannosaurus Rex attacking Styracosaurus dinosaurs in a desert landscape.
Tyrannosaurus Rex attacking Styracosaurus dinosaurs in a desert landscape | Elena Duvernay via GettyImages

The most notable site for Styracosaurus discovery is the Dinosaur Park Formation.

It was a rich ecosystem that supported a diverse fauna of prehistoric animals.

Consequently, Styracosarus would have lived alongside several other dinosaur groups and interacted with them. 

Styracosaurus had to contend with several large predators such as Daspletosaurus and Albertosaurus, Gorgosaurus, and other Tyrannosaurus.

These theropods were formidable carnivores and would have posed a significant threat to Styracosaurus individuals, especially the young and vulnerable.

A horned dinosaur of the late Cretaceous.
Styracosaurus, a horned dinosaur of the late Cretaceous | Arthur Dorety via GettyImages

To fend off these predators, Styracosaurus would have relied on its massive size, long horns, and frill. 

Since Laramidia was home to several mega-herbivores, Styracosaurus would have faced competition from other large herbivorous dinosaurs for food, water, nesting sites, and other resources.

It lived alongside horned relatives like the Centrosaurus and Chasmosaurus.

Duck-billed dinosaurs such as Prosaurolophus, Gryposaurus, and Lambeosaurus also shared the same habitat.

The specific nature and extent of competition among the herbivorous dinosaurs in this region is still unclear. 

Cultural Significance 

An all-mighty dinosaur stands atop a rocky hill.
A styracosaurus stands atop a rocky hill | Daniel Eskridge via iStock

Styracosaurus holds both cultural and scientific significance mostly due to its unique appearance.

Aside from the Triceratops, Styracosaurus is the ceratopsid most people are familiar with, and that’s due to its appearance in movies, documentaries, and other pop culture references.

The dinosaur was featured in the King Kong movie as early as 1933.

It has also appeared in several other dinosaur-themed movies, including The Son of Kong and The Valley of Gwangi.

Styracosaurus was also featured in the Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis game and in the video game “Banjo-Tooie.”

Styracosaurus confronting Tyrannosaurus-rex
Styracosaurus confronting Tyrannosaurus-rex | Kitti Kahotong via iStock

These are just a few of several pop-culture references to this dinosaur. 

In terms of scientific research, Styracosaurus has played a crucial role in advancing our knowledge of ceratopsian dinosaurs.

In particular, scientists have been interested in the elaborate head ornaments of this dinosaur and what they were used for.

The origin and evolution of the dinosaur group have been extensively studied as well.

Subtle changes in the arrangement of the dinosaur horns have been a key pointer to explain how the ceratopsians evolved over the years. 


Styracosaurus belongs to a diverse group of ceratopsians that were highly successful during the Cretaceous period.

The dinosaur, which lived in North America roughly 75 million years ago, is one of the most iconic herbivorous dinosaurs we have ever discovered. 

The long spikes, frills, and prominent nasal horns of the Styracosaurus are unlike that of any other dinosaur species, which is part of what makes it so interesting to study.

Although only a few individuals have been discovered, the near-complete nature of the Styracosaurus fossils found so far has provided scientists with a lot of information about the dinosaur and their close relatives. 


What was the purpose of the frill and horns on Styracosaurus?

The frill and horns of Styracosaurus may have served multiple purposes.

They likely played a role in species recognition or thermoregulation.

They may have also functioned as visual displays during courtship rituals or dominance interactions within their herds.

Furthermore, the frill and horns could have served as defensive structures, providing protection against predators or rival individuals.

Are there any living descendants of Styracosaurus?

No, Styracosaurus and other non-avian dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago.

The closest surviving descendants of the dinosaurs we can still see today are birds. 

Was Styracosaurus bigger than Triceratops?

No, Styracosaurus was not bigger than Triceratops.

The average Triceratops was up to 10 feet tall and grew 30 feet long. They also weighed up to 20,000 lbs.

The Styracosaurus, on the other hand, weighed about 6,000 lbs, stood at about five feet, and was roughly 18 feet long.

What does Styracosaurus mean? 

The name Styracosaurus means “spiked lizard”. It’s from the Greek word “styrax,” which is a “’spike at the butt-end of a spear shaft,” and “saurus,” meaning “lizard”


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