Friday, July 30, 2010

Bye bye Triceratops?

Interesting stuff from New Scientist magazine. It appears that Triceratops, one of the most iconic of all dinosaurs, may be about to go the way of Brontosaurus. In other words, it may not actually exist.

'Dinosaurs were shape-shifters', says the feature. 'Their skulls underwent extreme changes throughout their lives, growing larger, sprouting horns then reabsorbing them, and changing shape so radically that different stages look to us like different species. This discovery comes from a study of Triceratops and its close relative Torosaurus. Their skulls are markedly different but are actually from the very same species, argue John Scannella and Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

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. Now Scannella and Horner say that Triceratops is merely the juvenile form of Torosaurus. As the animal aged, its horns changed shape and orientation and its frill became longer, thinner and less jagged. Finally it became fenestrated, producing the classic Torosaurus form. 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.'

What a bugger eh? Bronto is gone and now, maybe, Trikey. Pterodactyl was never a proper name anyway. All they have to do now is discredit Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and T Rex and my childhood favourites will have all been wiped out as surely as they were wiped out by the Chicxulub meteor.

You can read the whole story here. Image courtesy of Live Science and shows growth stages of Triceratops.

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