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Temporal range: Oligocene–Early Miocene
Protoceras skeleton.jpg
Protoceras celer skeleton
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Protoceratidae
Subfamily: Protoceratinae
Genus: Protoceras
Marsh, 1891
Type species
Protoceras celer
  • P. celer Marsh 1891
  • P. neatodelpha Patton & Taylor 1973
  • P. skinneri Patton & Taylor 1973

Protoceras ('first horns') is an extinct genus of Artiodactyla, of the family Protoceratidae, endemic to North America. It lived from the Oligocene to the Early Miocene 33.3—16.0 Ma, existing for approximately 17 million years.[1]

Restoration of female and male by Charles R. Knight
Male Protoceras celer skull


Protoceras was 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) long and resembled a deer in terms of body shape. Like some other protoceratids it had three pairs of blunt horns on its skull. In life these were probably covered with skin, much like the ossicones of a giraffe. Protoceras was sexually dimorphic - females only had one pair of horns, on the back of the skull, which was shorter than the same pair in males. Males probably used these horns for display, impressing females and/or intimidating rivals. Due to the orientation of the horns the males probably displayed them sideways instead of frontally.[2]

Protoceras was one of the earliest and most primitive protoceratids, still possessing upper incisors[citation needed] and four functional toes (later genera had only two functional, hooved toes). It lived in the deserts of the Late Oligocene, alongside the oreodont Leptauchenia.


  1. ^ Protoceras at fossilworks
  2. ^ Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. p. 272. ISBN 1-84028-152-9.