Monday, November 08, 2010

Not Steggy too? Noooooo!!

A little while ago I reported that one of the most popular and iconic dinosaurs - the tank-like and horny Triceratops - may soon no longer exist. Evidence is emerging that strongly suggests that what we call Triceratops is actually a juvenile form of the larger Torosaurus. This was very bad news ... especially as we'd already lost another childhood favourite - Brontosaurus. Poor old Bronto turned out to be a mish mash of different species and the name was lost, replaced by the altogether more forgettable Apatasaurus. I should add that, technically, there's no such thing as a Pterodactyl either. The flying reptiles actually all come under the heading of pterosaurs of which one small, pigeon sized beastie was named Pterodactylus. So, it's bye bye Bronto and Pterry and maybe Trikey. And now it seems we might lose Stegosaurus too.
The problem arises from the substandard first Stegosaurus skeleton unearthed. During the 19th century, two fervent fossil collectors - Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope - forged an intense rivalry that would come to dominate American science. Their race to discover and name new species yielded many fossil discoveries but their vicious competition sullied the reputation of American science in the eyes of many Europeans and frequently generated sloppy science that would take a generation to correct. These 'Bone Wars' involved bribery, theft, defamation, and bone destruction in order to discover and name the most dinosaurs. In some cases, in an effort to claim 'first dibs' on a new discovery both men would publish papers ascribing names to new species when only fragmentary fossils existed.

And that's the issue for Stegosaurus. According to Peter Galton, a curator at Yale's Peabody Museum, the first Stegosaurus specimen - described by Marsh in 1877 - is too incomplete to compare with other fossils, which therefore invalidates the genus name. Instead, more complete stegosaurs such as Kentrosaurus,Lexovisaurus and Tuojiangosaurus may become the new holotype.


Source: New Scientist

p.s Best thing about Stegosaurus? The spiked tail cluster revels in the name of a thagomizer. I bloody love that word. And I love the story behind it even more. Its origins lie in this Gary Larson 'Far Side' cartoon from 1982.
The term was picked up initially by Ken Carpenter, a palaeontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. 'Thagomizer' has since been adopted as an informal anatomical term appearing, for example, on the website and stegosaur display at the Smithsonian and at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Excellent!


Cherie Reich said...

Nooooo! Not Stegosaurus too!

I don't understand why they have to change the names. Honestly, I don't. I doubt the dinosaurs care, and they aren't around to say otherwise. We can keep them the same. We can. Really. I promise.

We can't let them keep bullying the dinosaur names like they bullied Pluto into being a dwarf planet. Poor Pluto too.

Handles said...

I too love the word "thagomizer".

Im not very good with caveman dialects though, so Im not sure if its pronounced "thagomizer", or more like "targomizer" :)

liam c said...

does that means the land before time films arnt accurate or factual in any way?

Kee Bird said...

My guess is thag got himself spiked or squished