Horns on dinosaurs were designed to help attract mates and not for fighting enemies. There is no evidence to show that "ceratopsians" or horned dinosaurs ever used horns to fight, it was all about the flair and looking good.
The elaborate horns and frills on heads of animals such as the Triceratops have always baffled scientists, reports the Smithsonian magazine. Until now, the common conclusion was that horns were used as weapons, but while that makes sense, it does not explain the frills on the head.
Newly discovered species such as the Regaliceratops peterhewsi, dubbed the "Hellboy Dinosaur" or Machairoceratops cronusi known as the "Bent Sword Face" dinosaur, for example, had impressive ornamentation apart from their massive horns.
New species with such displays are being found every year, notes the report. Horned dinosaurs findings have tripled over the last 20 years, says the report. These findings are concentrated around North America and Asia.
With a larger sample base, more questions are being answered about these creatures. And one of the questions that researchers are able to answer now is why, from an evolutionary standpoint, did these creatures develop horns and ornaments?
Scientists examined 350 traits of 46 ceratopsian species that evolved over a 15 million year time span, in search of answer, notes the report. One of the uses of the features was speculated to be identification. They could prevent species from mating with the wrong dinosaur by accident.
That however was not the case, in fact, "We have shown that species recognition, one of the commonest explanations, is unlikely to be responsible for the diversity or origin of ornamentation in this group," said Andrew Knapp, PhD candidate from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and lead author of the study, according to a release published in Science Daily.
Researchers then found that the only other possible explanation was sexual selection. "If sexual selection is indeed the driver of ornament evolution in ceratopsians, as we are increasingly confident it is, demonstrating it through different lines of evidence can provide a crucial window into tracing its effects over potentially huge timescales," said Knapp.
This, however, does not mean that the horns were never ever used to fight or defend. "Some of these ornaments were also likely used at times for defense against predators or, to some extent, for recognition of members of different species," paleobiologist Darla Zelenitsky of the University of Calgary, not involved in the study. "But these were apparently not the primary driver in their evolution."