I got an e-mail from a friend this weekend with a link in it to a Gizmodo article titled "The Triceratops Never Existed, It Was Actually a Younger Version Of Another Dinosaur.
I have an exam tomorrow, so I don't have a whole lot of time to blog today, but I had to write something given the content of Friday's post. I check Gizmodo most days of the week, and really enjoy their articles and reviews, but maybe they should stick to technology and gadgets. When it comes to paleontology, they are way off the mark. (Above, Torosaurus (top) and Triceratops (bottom) the subjects of the study, as reconstructed by Nobu Tamura, from Wikimedia Commons.)
Here's the real (short) story. Paleontologists Jack Horner and John Scanella recently published a paper in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology stating that a species of ceratopsid dinosaur known as Torosaurus is the same animal as another more familiar species of ceratopsid dinosaur, Triceratops (2010). Both are from Late Cretaceous western North America, and both are remarkably similar from the neck back. The only differences were seen in the large ornamented skulls of the animals. Horner and Scanella proposed that Torosaurus was actually a mature adult specimen of Triceratops and that the difference in the shape of the skull was the result of bone remodeling as the animal aged (2010). This would also explain why Torosaurus is less abundant in the fossil record than Triceratops. The evidence seems pretty convincing, and this is the perfect example of how science can change our understanding for the better. New information comes along, and ideas change. This hypothesis could be correct or incorrect, and our knowledge can change again as more information comes to light. Sounds more than reasonable to me. Check out the paper, it's pretty good.
So what does this mean? Well it doesn't mean that Triceratops will be vanishing as most of the internet would have you believe. If anything, Torosaurus will be the one to go, and it will now be known as Triceratops. That is because Triceratops was named in 1889, and Torosaurus wasn't named until 1891. Since Triceratops was named first, it is the name that will stay. So Torosaurus will go the way of Brontosaurus (now known to be Apatosaurus). And since most people don't know what a Torosaurus is, there shouldn't be any cause for alarm. Again, media outlets of the world, I love that you want to report on paleontology and get people interested in science, but please check your facts first. You are doing everyone a disservice by reporting false information. For your convenience, here is another link to the article, and you'll find a complete reference at the bottom of the page here. You're welcome.
Scannella, J. & Horner, J. 2010. Torosaurus Marsh 1891, is Triceratops Marsh, 1889 (Ceratopsidae: Chasmosaurinae): synonymy through ontogeny. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 30 (4), 1157-1168.
David Orr of Love in the Time of Chasmosaurus and Brian Switek of Dinosaur Tracking both have coverage on this topic as well. Check out the posts!
***UPDATE 03 AUGUST***
Matt Martinyuk of DinoGoss keeps it short and simple: "Triceratops Exists, Learn to Read". Backstory and review of the paper here.
****UPDATE 05 AUGUST****
Brian Switek over at Dinosaur Tracking says to relax. I agree.
*****UPDATE 11 AUGUST*****
This is still going on! David Orr has the last word over at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurus. "TriceraFAIL"... I like that.