Eotriceratops vs. Hesperornis
We find ourselves in what is now central Alberta, just over 68 million years ago. A flat landscape, cut by meandering rivers, stretches out in all directions. Soft green ferns and shrubs cover the soft, damp soil, and the rivers are lined with thick groves of horsetails. Tall cypress and redwood trees grow in scattered patches across the floodplain. The air is warm and humid. To the west, dark storm clouds gather over the distant uplands.
A large flightless bird called Hesperornis has unwittingly been transported to this late Cretaceous setting. This 6-foot tall avian dinosaur species went extinct about 10 million years earlier, back then having inhabited the Western Interior Seaway that once stretched this far inland but has now receded some distance to the east. Hesperornis is a little too well adapted to a marine setting, with paddle-like hind limbs that stick outwards and wings that have long been lost in the course of evolution, and he can barely even move on land.
Lying helplessly on his stomach, the bird glances around, feeling insecure and isolated out on this floodplain. However, he hears the sound of running water nearby. The edge of a winding river is only about a dozen meters away. Any body of water is better than being high and dry on the floodplain, and instinct drives the Hesperornis to make it to the river. If the bird can get just that far, he will at least be more at home, able to catch fish in his toothed beak, and the current might even take him out to the seaway.
With as much effort as he can muster, the Hesperornis rises up and begins to awkwardly waddle his way to the river’s edge (Bell et al., 2019). As the bird goes, he hears the sound of crushed plants and snapping twigs behind him. A massive Eotriceratops, a three-horned dinosaur very similar to the later Triceratops, is meandering towards the river. This dinosaur is huge, with a 3 meter skull and body as big as a large elephant (Wu et al., 2007). His impressively long, curved horns and broad colourful frill are knotted with tangled vegetation from browsing in bushy thickets, giving the dinosaur a wild look.
Hesperornis turns to see the Eotriceratops heading in his direction and panics, waddling as fast as his ungainly form will carry him. He doesn’t know if the ceratopsid is dangerous or not, but Hesperonris won’t risk finding out, knowing that his only safety will be in the water.
Despite the efforts of the awkward bird, the giant Eotriceratops outpaces him. Like many other large herbivores, the horned dinosaur won’t turn down a bite-sized snack of protein every now and then. With one swift motion Eotriceratops snatches up the Hesperornis in his curved beak and, with powerful shearing jaws, crushes the bird in one bite, swallowing the remains. Eotriceratops then reaches the river side and washes his snack down with a mouthful of muddy water.