Friday, November 16, 2018

Thanos Deserves Better

Thanos, the Mad Titan, disappointed with his namesake.
A new dinosaur was published today in Historical Biology: Thanos simonattoi, named after Sergio Simonatto, who discovered the specimen, but more visibly Thanos, the Marvel villain. It might not shock you to known that Rafael Delcourt's name is on this paper. A few months ago, he gave us the Etrigansauria, an unnecessary name that has designs on replacing the perfectly-good Neoceratosauria. Delcourt & Vidoi lori (2018) identify Thanos as an abelisaurid close to Brachyrostra. This all seems fine until you see the holotype:

That sure is a fossil.
Thanos is an atlas-axis complex.

To my mind, you don't just stick the name Thanos on any old fossil that comes out of the ground. You save it for a fossil that justifies the name. Thanos wiped out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. He has a very distinctive face marked with furrows. He is the Avengers' greatest foe, and one of the medium's most enduring villains, period. You don't give his name to a partially-preserved atlas-axis complex.

"Are you kidding me with this shit?"
And it's a real shame, because Thanos' furrowed brow and chin do lend themselves to abelisaurids, what with their rugose, furrowed skull bones. But we may never find out what Thanos looks like because even if a more complete abelisaur is dug out of the Sao Jose do Rio Preto Formation, without a preserved atlas-axis, there's no way to tell if it's Thanos or not. Any reference to Thanos will necessarily be provisional. Why did Delcourt & Vidoi loci even give this thing a species name instead of referring it to Abelisauridae and leaving it at that until better material showed up?


It really feels like Delcourt had the name "Thanos" in his back pocket, ready to deploy as soon as a new abelisaurid turned up whether or not the name fit the specimen. That's kind of how I feel about Etrigansauria, too, because Etrigan the Demon is not a great namesake for the Neoceratosauria. Why? Because only two members of the Neoabelisauridae have horns: Ceratosaurus towards the bottom and Carnotaurus at the top, and those horns are not homologous. Horns are the exception, not the rule when it comes to Neoabelisaurids. Ironically, "Thanosauria" would've been a far more apt name, as most abelisaurids are characterized by rugose, furrowed skull bones. Delcourt wants to name dinosaurs after comic book characters, and this is a practice I fully endorse, but don't just do it willy-nilly; please, for the love of Arceus, make sure the animal(s) fits the name.

This is apparently what Thanos looked like.
Delcourt & Vidoi loca end their paper with a lovely restoration of Thanos approaching some titanosaurs by Deverson da Silva. It's a nice image, but wholly and unfortunately speculative because, again, all we've got is an atlas-axis complex from this animal.

I can't wait to read about Darkseid, the holotype of which will be a frontal bone.


  1. Come on, Zack!
    Naming a taxon whatever stupid way they like has always been a right of the authors in taxonomic works. Complaining for such a right is a sort of bigotry complaining for author freedom. Who decides what names are good and what are bad, who decides what taxon "deserves" or not a particular name? Internet? Marvel fans? The Holy Taxonomic Inquisition?

    Is it a bad ugly name? For sure! But take it easy.

    1. I know, it just really got under my skin today. Yes, Delcourt can name it whatever he wants, I don't have to LIKE it. 😅

    2. I don't like it too, but for other reasons: future fossils may show that the combination of features that defines Thanos may be widespread among abelisauroids, thus making this taxon (whatever the name used) a nomen dubium.

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  2. idk if I'd word it as "Thanos deserves better" so much as "this isolated vert. does not deserve a genus and species name".

  3. Forgive me if I'm spamming, but I thought I'd share these silly cartoons I made about this find.

  4. Yeah, but Neoceratosauria just means "New Horned Lizards"!

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