Monday, October 20, 2014

Taxonomic Messes

In his recent Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, Greg Paul did something interesting: he sank most of the Centrosaurinae into Centrosaurus. Thus, instead of Styracosaurus albertensis, you now have Centrosaurus albertensis. Where once there was Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai, there is now only Centrosaurus lakustai. This seems ridiculous on the face of it, but Paul's justification is not entirely off-kilter: he surmises that the Centrosaurinae exhibits as much or less variation than is found between different species of Varanus. But that comparison is, in itself, completely arbitrary. The taxonomy of living animals--and especially living reptiles--is dictated by an entirely separate group of specialists. If paleontologists were in charge of Varanus, it might well be divided into separate genera. Herpetologists (and Greg Paul) are especially fond of subgenera, whereas as I believe that subgenera are confusing and unnecessary.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Place Name-o-saurus

Albertosaurus, a tyrannosaur from Alberta, in case that wasn't clear.

All of these fossil animal names have something in common. Can you guess what it is?

Albertosaurus, Albertaceratops, Albertonykus, Albertonectyes, Edmontosaurus, Edmontonia, Agujaceratops, Coahuilaceratops, Judiceratops, Utahraptor, Utahceratops, Alaskacephale, Sinosauropteryx, Sinornithosaurus, Sinovenator, Sinocalliopteryx, Sinornis, Sinoceratops, Huaxiagnathus, Huaxiaosaurus, Qianzhousaurus, Zhuchengceratops, Zhuchengtyrannus, Montanoceratops, Argentinosaurus, Nigersaurus, Aegyptosaurus, Brasilotitan, Gondwanatitan, Panamericansaurus, Gobisaurus, Afrovenator, Antarctopelta, Europelta, Europasaurus, Hungarosaurus, Hatzegopteryx, Santanadactylus, Santanaraptor, Santanachelys

Monday, October 6, 2014

Spinosaurus-world Problems

Spinosaurus aegypticus, lord of the Kem Kem river system.

September 12th saw the publication of Ibrahim et al.’s new reconstruction of Spinosaurus aegypticus, surely one of the most famous and mysterious of all dinosaurs. The authors designate a neotype, assign a bunch of previously indeterminate material to S. aegypticus, synonymize “Spinosaurus maroccanus” and “Sigilmassassaurus brevicollis” into S. aegypticus, and offer up a bizarre interpretation of the whole animal. No longer confined to wading in rivers and snatching up fish a la Suchomimus, Spinosaurus is now a proper semi-aquatic dinosaur that the authors compare to early whales. Aside from being published in Science, National Geographic appears to be paying the bills and fabricated a massive skeletal reconstruction and life-size model. As can be expected, there was much media fanfare surrounding the publication and public unveiling.