Triceratops: Not quite dead yet


Have faith, o ye lovers of Triceratops. For the battle over dinosaur taxonomic delineation has only just begun to rage.

Last summer, many of you expressed dismay when a team of scientists at Montana's Museum of the Rockies published research suggesting that Triceratops were actually just juvenile Torosaurs. In your sadness, ye cried out, and Andrew Farke of the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California, saw your suffering and took pity upon you.

Farke reanalyzed the same set of fossils, and came to a different conclusion than the Museum of the Rockies team. The key was a skull that's long been classed as a third genera—called Nedoceratops hatcheri.

[The Museum of the Rockies team] called Nedoceratops an intermediate stage between Triceratops and Torosaurus. But [Farke] concluded that Nedoceratops was a distinct genera. In PLoS ONE, he reports that for the three genera to be different growth stages of a single dinosaur, "would require cranial changes otherwise unknown" in horned dinosaurs.

Who's right? Horned dinosaur fossils are common as fossils go, more research is in progress, and more debate is sure to follow.

In other words: Watch this space. I'll keep you updated as I hear more. However this shakes out in the end, though, you will be pleased to know that the name Triceratops is safe. When I first wrote about the Museum of the Rockies paper, it wasn't clear to me which name a combined creature would use. Now, New Scientist says that because Triceratops was named before either Torosaurus or Nedoceratops, it's the moniker that takes precedence. So, either Triceratops are their own dinosaur, and the name stays. Or, the three genera are one, and they're all Triceratops.

Image courtesy Flickr user lindseywb, via CC