Some animals fight with others of their own species over territory, resources, and mates. During mating season, male elk lock horns in powerful struggles for dominance. Fighting is a test of strength, and isn’t usually a battle to the death. Many mature males bear scars from these battles.
Millions of years ago, some dinosaurs apparently behaved the same way. Triceratops is a well-known herbivorous dinosaur that lived about sixty-eight million years ago. You may remember it from Jurassic Park. The dinosaur is noted for its three big horns, and a large bony frill that encircles its head. Paleontologists have long noted that this bony frill often has holes in just the right areas to be caused by those big horns. They suspected the holes were injuries caused by combat, like that engaged in by elk today.
In 2022 a team of paleontologists from Italy published evidence to support this theory. The researchers studied a specimen of triceratops called ‘Big John’ found in Montana in 2014. The bony remains had a large hole in the neck frill. Studying the edges of the hole under the microscope, and performing a chemical analysis, the researchers found evidence that the hole was an injury in the process of healing.
The microscope showed the edges of the hole were rich in tiny channels, indicating an enhanced supply of blood vessels. This is one sign of bone in the process of healing. The edge of the hole was also rich in sulfur, an indication that sulfur-containing proteins involved in bone healing may have been present. The evidence tells us that, millions of years ago, triceratops battled one another.