Friday, July 30, 2010

Triceratops no more: dinosaur actually a different species

Jimmy remembers a better time, before Kota's deceit and inevitable betrayal.
Turns out that staple of grade-school science is just a phase of growth in another dino's life cycle: the torosaurus. Or maybe it's the either way around. Whatever the case, trike and toro are the same beast at different points in their now singular life. Turns out the frill was the shill--the large frill that adorns the rear of the animals' skulls is not a sign that they were two different species, but the frill itself changed as they matured.

The differences in each species (from New Scientist):
Triceratops had three facial horns and a short, thick neck-frill with a saw-toothed edge. Torosaurus also had three horns, though at different angles, and a much longer, thinner, smooth-edged frill with two large holes in it. So it's not surprising that Othniel Marsh, who discovered both in the late 1800s, considered them to be separate species.
So how did the change occur?
This extreme shape-shifting was possible because the bone tissue in the frill and horns stayed immature, spongy and riddled with blood vessels, never fully hardening into solid bone as happens in most animals during early adulthood. The only modern animal known to do anything similar is the cassowary, descended from the dinosaurs, which develops a large spongy crest when its skull is about 80 per cent fully grown.

Shape-shifting continued throughout these dinosaurs' lives, Scannella says. "Even in the most mature specimens that we've examined, there is evidence that the skull was still undergoing dramatic changes at the time of death.

First Pluto's not a planet, now triceratops isn't...a triceratops! Honestly, it's fascinating to think that we've perceived them as two different animals for decades. Sure it all sounds like a "well, duh!" moment, but think about how many animals we see every day that go through similar changes and we never think twice--a butterfly for instance.

Triceratops wasn't the only casualty, as you can tell by the image, old bone-head pachycephalosaurus is another transforming dinobot--er, saur. This new theory could extend to several other species as well.

Hopefully none of the differences in the frills or horns will effect our ability to saddle them with lasers.

Get the full story from New Scientist.
Also at Live Science.

Hat tip to Boing Boing, and the wonderful Maggie Koerth-Baker who's insight and commentary is always spot-on (and fun!).


Emily said...

What will they say next? That we shouldn't be eating paste?!

Matt said...

They'll have to rip Pluto, Brontosauruses and Triceratops from my cold, dead hands.

Captain Rufus said...

Well Torosaurus no longer exists. Triceratops forever.

I love the Triceratops and you can't take 30 years of it being my favorite prehistoric beast away from me.

Nope. Not happening.


rainswept said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Gardner said...

The name"Triceratops" was never at risk, this is just a media failure to get the facts straight. Torosaurus is the mature form of Triceratops, Triceratops was named before Torosaurus, and therefore, Torosaurus is Triceratops. This is what the paper says, this is what intelligent articles and blog posts have said on the matter. That anyone thought that Triceratops was the name being sunk, is seriously their own failure to find the facts properly.

Jay said...

Hi Nick, thanks for stopping by! Your comments are spot on. At the same time, it's the internet and memes like this are born every second and it's just too hard to resist poking fun.

Honestly, I can smell the silk screen of the "First Pluto, Now Triceratops!" t-shirts being printed already! (All in good fun.)

The good thing is, it will be dead as quickly as it arrived. :)