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They're all Triceratops now
July 15, 2010 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Torosaurus Ain't.

Drawing on 10 years worth of work at Montana's Hellcreek Formation, Montana State University doctoral student John Scannella and Dr. Jack Horner have concluded that a Torosaurus is actually just a mature Triceratops. Jack Horner you will remember from his desire to wrangle dino-chickens. If their research is correct, it offers further evidence that dinosaur diversity had greatly dwindled by the end of the Cretaceous, or maybe not. If you want to get your paleontological geek on, read their paper.
posted by Wulfgar! (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The problem I've always had with dino-science folks is that their idea of how things were changes all of the time but they don't seem to acknowledge that for the future. I've heard "this is how things were" presented as a fact until the facts change over and over again, never "this is pretty much how we've been able to figure out things were" as one would tend to think.

My experience has been that if you mention the changing nature of their beliefs and ideas they don't see the future bringing a different understanding just that the past offered an incorrect understanding.
posted by reklus at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, Cera (the annoying juvenile triceratops) was drawn wrong in The Land Before Time? It's a scandal!
posted by Doohickie at 10:46 AM on July 15, 2010


Paleontologists: constantly changing things just to mess with your cartoons.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


is this like the same way that t. rex grows up to become godzilla?
posted by sexyrobot at 10:47 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excellent! There's another one I'm suspicious off too (based on the books I read my 3 year old).

It's like a small Triceratops only with no horns and, in the words of the book, "usually traveled with herds of Triceratops" (not Protoceratops--I want to say "Montanasaurus" but google won't admit that's right).

Uh...paleontologists, you've heard of babies before, right?
posted by DU at 10:47 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


The holes in Torosaurus cranial carapace were carved out and enlarged by cavemen, who fashioned leather seats in them.

The holes were also used to mount various weapons, battering rams, catapults and such.
posted by Xoebe at 10:52 AM on July 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


More seriously, "this is pretty much how we've been able to figure out things were/are" is all science, ever. If something is science you can just go ahead and assume the caveat is there.

Feel free to be especially suspicious of pop science documentaries on the Discovery channel.
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


A kangaroo is just a baby tyrannosaur.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's Brontosaurus, all over again! Damn you, MAAAARSH!Do they recommend dumping "Torosaurus," and keeping "Triceratops," as your title suggests? I can't access their article, grrrrrr.
posted by steef at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


DU, we have a Montanasaurus skeleton here at the Museum of the Rockies. It's about the size of a large hog, and built like one too. I think the structure is different enough that its probably different in taxonomy to the Tric.
posted by Wulfgar! at 10:59 AM on July 15, 2010


They contend that they're Triceratops. But those obsessed with Taxonomy will probably beg to differ, at least for a while.
posted by Wulfgar! at 11:01 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


It costs $37.00 to read their paper, if you're not a subscriber. And I was REALLY hoping there'd be pictures in the paper. What's an article about dinosaurs without pictures of dinosaurs?
posted by yhbc at 11:01 AM on July 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Let me ask the tiny toy triceratops on my desk that I "won" after spending an ungodly amount of money and effort at the Santa Monica pier arcade in some delusional ticket-fixated nostalgia mania.

He says the bones where placed there to test our faith in the one true triceratops.
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


The holy bony tricinity.
posted by Babblesort at 11:04 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Montana paleontology FTW. Thx Wulfie!
posted by davidmsc at 11:05 AM on July 15, 2010


DU, we have a Montanasaurus skeleton here at the Museum of the Rockies. It's about the size of a large hog, and built like one too. I think the structure is different enough that its probably different in taxonomy to the Tric.

They contend that they're Triceratops. But those obsessed with Taxonomy will probably beg to differ, at least for a while.


I don't understand this pair of comments. Who is "they"? The Montanasaurii or some paleontologists or just anyone not obsessed with taxonomy?
posted by DU at 11:05 AM on July 15, 2010


And they all hid behind trees!
posted by pyrex at 11:08 AM on July 15, 2010


DU, are you thinking of the Monoclonius?

(This is actually an interesting little Wikipedia piece--shows the same kind of issue as the Triceratops/Torosaurus.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:10 AM on July 15, 2010


Sorry DU. The second comment was to steef and should read: 'the paleontologist duo contend that the dinosaurs in question are all Triceratops'. I just hate to type.

And for the record, I didn't have to subscribe to get the link to the paper. Weird.
posted by Wulfgar! at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2010


steef: "Do they recommend dumping "Torosaurus," and keeping "Triceratops," as your title suggests?"

Seems like that would be the case. Triceratops was described a few years before Torosaurus
posted by brundlefly at 11:16 AM on July 15, 2010


Who is "they"?

Triceratops. They were deeply concerned with classification and taxonomy. While the rest of the dinosaurs evolved into birds, triceratops evolved into catalogers and prescriptivists. Strange but true!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


The problem I've always had with dino-science folks is that their idea of how things were changes all of the time but they don't seem to acknowledge that for the future.

First they came for the Brontosaurus . . .
posted by The Bellman at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obviously the triceratops was the only one small enough to fit on the ark. That accounts for the differences.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:38 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Woah, woah. You're saying the Torosaurus isn't a torus afterall? My world is shattered.
posted by Plutor at 11:57 AM on July 15, 2010


wulfgar!, if you work for the museum and the museum has a subscription, you may be getting access at work because you're accessing it from the museum's IP address. I have this happen with the Chronicle of Higher Education. I can access it from work through the corporate subscription but not from home unless I'm using some arcane arrangement of herbs, stones and the right corporate intranet link for remote employees.
posted by onhazier at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, I don't work for or from the Museum, but I am on the MSU campus. Maybe that's the ticket.
posted by Wulfgar! at 12:09 PM on July 15, 2010


Okay, since I pooched the paper so to speak, here's the abstract and a short summery:
Although they have been considered distinct genera for over a century, ontogenetic analyses reveal that Triceratops and “Torosaurus” actually represent growth stages of a single genus. Major changes in cranial morphology—including the opening of parietal fenestrae and the elongation of the squamosals—occur rapidly, very late in Triceratops ontogeny and result in the characteristic 'Torosaurus' morphology. This report presents the results of a 10-year field study of the dinosaurs of the Hell Creek Formation in Montana and is based on a collection of over 50 specimens of Triceratops, including over 30 skulls, which have been amassed in that time, in addition to specimens from numerous other North American museums. This large sample of individuals reveals the full ontogenetic spectrum of Triceratops. The synonymy of Triceratops and 'Torosaurus' contributes to an unfolding view of extremely reduced dinosaur diversity just before the end of the Mesozoic Era.
The finding of Torosaurus skulls has been very rare (but has included the largest dinosaur skull ever found) and all of them have been from adults. No juvinile Torsaurus skull has ever been found. Scannella and Horner spent 3 years measuring the micro-changes in the carapace structure of aging Triceratops, kind of measuring stretch marks, if you will. They found a continuity of evidence when comparing the growth structures of the supposedly 2 species, and concluded that they are actually one species. They go on to say:

Implications for Dinosaur Diversity
No centrosaurine material is known from the Hell Creek Formation or adjacent equivalent-aged formations. It appears that only the chasmosaurine ceratopsids survived into the latest Maastrichtian (Dodson, 1996). Of this group, Triceratops and 'Torosaurus' were proposed to be the last of their lineages (Sternberg, 1949). The synonymy of these genera diminishes the diversity of ceratopsids in the Hell Creek Formation. Similar synonymizations are occurring for several taxa, including tyrannosaurs (Carr, 1999) and pachycephalosaurs (Horner and Goodwin, 2009), in the latest Cretaceous of North America. These advances show that dinosaur diversity was more depleted than traditionally thought well before the end of the Cretaceous Period.
They admit 3 alternate hypothesis. 1) That Torosaurus skulls don't form over time in a similar manner to Trics. Not likely given that they seem so similar in every other respect (phylogenetic similarity). 2) That Trics and Toros are almost the same until an advanced age. Very unlikely given that they lived in exact proximity to each other. 3) Marsh hypothesized that their was gender dimorphism in what he thought were the two species. That can't be ruled out, but we have no good evidence of sexual dimorphism in "non-avian" dinosaurs. Their final conclusion is 3 very wordy paragraphs stating that 'it's Triceratops all the way down'.

Have I mentioned that I hate typing?
posted by Wulfgar! at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


This does not bode well for my Saplingosaur theory.
posted by Kabanos at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2010


Dr. Jack Horner
Sat in the corner
Next to a Tric and a Toro
"This one's a baby –
The other is maybe
What the baby will look like tomorrow."
posted by Kabanos at 1:59 PM on July 15, 2010 [10 favorites]


What does this mean for Mojoceratops?
posted by galadriel at 6:08 PM on July 15, 2010


It's Brontosaurus, all over again!

Aw, man! (As if Pluto wasn't enough.) What does that mean for Elk's Theory?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:49 PM on July 15, 2010


Metafiler: constantly changing things just to mess with your cartoons.
posted by Doohickie at 10:08 AM on July 16, 2010


Newly Discovered Dinosaur Dubbed 'Mojoceratops'
posted by homunculus at 1:46 PM on July 16, 2010


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