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August 3, 2010

Triceratops never existed? Say it ain't so!


Two scientists at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana are challenging long-held views about triceratops, the three-horned dinosaur that has enchanted kids since the Cretaceous era. John Scannella and Jack Horner say the iconic dino is really just an immature version of the torosaurus, according to NewScientist.

Both triceratops and torosaurus (Yale's Peabody Museum has an interesting slide show on the reconstruction of this beast) had three horns and a large neck frill, the NewScientist article notes. Scannella and Horner say that as the animal aged, its horns changed shape and orientation and its frill became longer, thinner and less jagged.

OK, that's fine scientific theory. But for people like me, who grew up reading Oliver Butterworth's "The Enormous Egg," it's heresy. I loved the story about Nate Twitchell, who comes across a giant egg and watches it hatch into a baby triceratops that he names Uncle Beazley. That book helped spark an interest in dinosaurs -- and science -- that has endured for me. It's truly depressing to hear that dear, old triceratops may be on its way to a scientist-imposed extinction.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 2:11 PM | | Comments (12)


First they took away Pluto as a planet, now it's no longer a Triceratops. F*** the scientists. It's still a triceratops to me.

John Scannella and Jack Horner do not or never existed!

Well sense the triceratops was founded before the Torosaurus then its the Torosaurus that never actually existed.


The writer has obviously not read the New Scientist article he's reporting on, which states: "Torosaurus will now be abolished as a species and specimens reassigned to Triceratops, says Horner."

Please check your facts next time before spooking people like this. The public depends on you for accuracy and integrity.

since triceratops was named before torosaurus it is a triceratops. So torosaurus never existed.

Matt, I'm not sure that will have when the Dinosaur Naming Convention Committee reconvenes. I hope Horner is right, and the torosaurus lobby can be defeated in its bid for supremacy.

OK, I admit that the headline Dave Rosenthal chose is certainly attention getting. But the third paragraph shows a lack of research.

He should update this article by eliminating that last paragraph, and replace it with "Thankfully, Scannella and Horner have said that the name triceratops will stay; torosaurus is going away".

I'm the Marketing Director at the Museum of the Rockies, home to Jack Horner, and the facts are that the Torosaurus is actually a Triceratops. So the Triceratops is here to stay. The New Scientist article is misleading.

I know John Scanella and he does exists!!!

How frustrating - I would love to check what the New Scientist article actually says, but it only allows subscribers to read the full article. So I can't tell whether the reporting above is accurate or misleading. My son would like to know which species will "disappear"! From the commentary, it seems that Torosaurus will be subsumed into Triceratops, although that's *not* how it's being reported.

Triceratops is the older name, and there for will be keep. Torosaurus will be sunk. Since it is not an objective junior synonym, it may not be gone forever. If at a latter date, this research is rejected, the name Torosaurus can be revived.

Even though Triceratops turns out to be a young adult form of Torosaurus (which I doubt), it is the name Torosaurus, NOT Triceratops that will go away since Triceratops was named 1st. That’s why the name Apatosaurus is valid while Brontosaurus is not. However, I think Jack Horner is going a little bit too far on this. Firstly, postcranial material of Torosaurus shows that Torosaurus is 7.6 meters long, smaller than the 9 meter long Triceratops (I wonder whether John Scannella and Jack Horner even knows how small Torosaurus actually is compared to Triceratops). One of the only animals (if not the only) which shrink as they grow up is the paradoxical frog, and dinosaur species (eg. Allosaurus, Triceratops’s relatives Protoceratops and Centrosaurus) which fossils of nearly all ages found indicates that NO dinosaur grows up like that. Not only that, Horner and Scanella’s theory suggest that the solid frill in Triceratops grew the 2 holes on it’s frill as Triceratops mature. If that’s the case, why would they grow a solid frill in the 1st place if they would grow 2 holes on it’s frill in later life? I also think that Mark Goodwin and Jack Horner's theories on the Pachycephalosaurs are just as ridiculous. For Stygimoloch, it is highly unlikely that it grew spikes behind it's dome if they were to shrink in later life as that would be a waste and NO animal grows like that. As for Dracorex, this webpage proves that like Stygimoloch, Dracorex IS NOT a Pachycephalosaurus:

At least Dinosaur George is smart enough to know this the theories "Torosaurus is a Triceratops" and "Dracorex and Stygimoloch" theories are downright absurd.

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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