I’m about a month late about this, but apparently triceratops didn’t exist. (I noticed this in Rolling Stone last week, so maybe I’m not as late as I could be.) As a once and future dinosaur fan, this news was… well, cringe-worthy. Like when Pluto was determined to be a lump of frozen methane and not a real planet. Triceratops might not be as cool as king daddy T-Rex, but it’s a classic. Certainly up there in the list of awesome dinosaurs. Dayum, I think, where did they come up with this striking development? After all, it’s hardly new for multiple dinosaurs to end up being the same as other dinosaurs: apatosaurus/brontosaurus, for example.
According to a CBS News Tech Talk update, an article in New Scientist holds the answers. John Scannella and Jack Horner underwent a lot of study, examining triceratops skeletons, to realize that it was most likely a juvenile form of the larger torosaurus. But, as was pointed out in the post’s comments, the CBS article needed an editor’s hand and was misleading. Looking around, I found a quote from New Scientist on another website, the important parts being:
“…torosaurus will now be abolished as a species and specimens reassigned to triceratops.”
So, depending on your viewpoint, either triceratops was an immature torosaurus, or torosaurus was an older triceratops, which correlates to the name staying triceratops. Science 1, sloppy journalism 0.
Interestingly enough, the weird scare-tactic bent also applies to Pluto: it’s considered a dwarf planet, of which there are several others in our solar system, making it still technically a planet but not unique enough to be the fabled ninth celestial body we grew up knowing it was.
Also interesting, there’s a lot of flak out there about it being a Horner-based study, Horner evoking the idea of modern dinosaur controversy. Jack Horner was my hero when I was a kid, from all my mid-90s VHS tapes about dinosaurs raving about him. So I refuse to get into the T Rex hunter/scavenger mess, or any other Horner based argument, simply because it’s good science: theorizing and postulating. Humans weren’t alive back then, so there’s no easy answer, and the more theories about dinosaurs, the more awesome they become.