Sunday, August 08, 2010

Triceratops, We Hardly Knew You.

Images like this one are what captured my imagination as a kid. A tiny little tank like creature with three horns taking on some bad ass T-Rexes.

The Triceratops was my favorite dinosaur growing up. All that arsenal, and a herbivore? Why, that's a leash and some DNA away from being my new best pet! I was sorely disappointed in how underused it was in the film "Jurassic Park". Triceratops could have saved the day at the end! But no, he was just comic relief for a poop joke! Still, it was cool to see.

But like science always tends to do, here they come along with their logic and... Well, science. And they come to tell us that the Triceratops that we have known and loved never really existed. Seems like the Triceratops was nothing more than a juvenile version of a Torosaurus.

What's a Torosaurus? He's the little guy to the left. Looks just like a Triceratops, right? Well, the differences are that as a juvenile the frill on the Torosaurus' head (formerly Triceratops, in case you weren't paying attention) is about six feet long and the horns are pointed back and set above its eyes. As it gets older it "shape-shifts". The horns point forward and the frill over its head grows to about nine feet and ends up with holes in it.

What's interesting to point out is that both species (not anymore, of course) were discovered by the same Othneil Marsh, around the same vicinity in the late 1800's.

What led scientist to this rectifying discovery is that they couldn't seem to find any juvenile Torosaurus footprints, so evidently, their feet also "shape-shifted" as they got older.

To tell you the truth, if someone didn't tell me that one was a Triceratops and the other was a Torosaurus, I would've assumed that they were the same species. But hey, what do I know. I'm not the one with the little brush and pick-axe.

So does this mean that we say goodbye to the name Triceratops? That it will go the way of Pluto no longer referring to it as a planet? That someone's going to have to remake "Jurassic Park" and refer to the big mound of crap as Torosaurus dung?

Actually, no. The Torosaurus name will go away, because the Triceratops name is much more popular. And genus classification forbid, that we'd have to study what a Torosaurus actually is, or was, as the case seems to be.

So fear not dear friends. The Triceratops is dead. Long live the Triceratops!