Triceratops vs. Torosaurus: The Dinopocalypse

Image credit: 

So you may recall that back in 2010, Jack Horner, the famous paleontologist who partly inspired Jurassic Park, co-authored a paper arguing that the dinosaur Torosaurus didn't exist -- that in fact, it was the adult version of Triceratops. Even weirder, Horner and colleagues later argued that there is a sort of teen version of that sad dinosaur, adorably known as Nedoceratops (though only one specimen of Ned has been found). Their debate is summarized in this amazing New York Times article, which includes this delicious section (emphasis added):

...Dr. Longrich devised three tests to determine whether the two animals could be younger and older versions of the same species. The results, published on Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, suggest that the dinosaurs are separate animals.

The distinction may seem trivial, but it has generated much discussion in paleontology circles. It is the latest battle in what is sometimes called the war between “lumpers,” who tend to consolidate species, and “splitters,” who are more likely to tease them apart. Dr. Horner is known as one of the field’s most ardent lumpers.

“Horner’s got an agenda,” Dr. Longrich, 35, said in an interview. “He has this hit list of dinosaurs that he’s trying to get rid of.” Sitting in his lab at a desk littered with snake skeletons and empty Coke cans, he added, “Sometimes it’s fun to kind of pick a fight.”

Snake skeletons and empty Coke cans, eh? I think good Dr. Longrich is one of my people. Anyhoo, if you buy the Horner hypothesis, here's a video from CalAcademy and the University of California Museum of Paleontology. It likens the demotion of Torosaurus to the demotion of Pluto -- a topic I know you guys all love to discuss. If you enjoy weirdly chipper voiceovers, you'll love this (honestly, I mainly enjoy this video for the tonal dissonance between the narrator and Mark Goodwin, co-author of the Horner paper, soberly explaining his research):

But the more urgent issue is the effect this reclassification will have on Dino-Riders toys. In this video, Torosaurus and Triceratops are clearly two separate toys. We're gonna have to break some kids' hearts, folks.

If you want more science and fewer jokes, check out this Huffington Post story summarizing the Longrich argument. It fails to mention Dino-Riders. For more on that Dino-Riders thing, check out this amazing blog post in which the truth is revealed: Torosaurus had "walking" action. And laser cannons, if the box art is to be believed. And some human friends named Gunnur and Magnus. Oh, fine, cancel the dinosaur, I give up.

(Via The Kid Should See This and my overindulgent Googling.)

More from mental_floss...

October 1, 2012 - 5:15am
submit to reddit