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Re: Dinosaurs Breathed Like Birds



Andrew Simpson wrote:

That's all I'm really saying. Descriptive names are
better for everyone and keep the place names, people
names and funny names to a minimum.

Alas, descriptive names often turn out to be misleading. A descriptive genus or species name often contains an author's inference about the physical characters or lifestyle of a creature. For example, I've been told that the name _Phorusrhacus_ translates as "branch-holder", because the person (Ameghino) who named it thought he'd found the remains of a prehistoric sloth. As we now know, _Phorusrhacus_ was a bird, and a fully terrestrial one at that.


Other examples abound, and the Dinosauria is full of them. _Sarcolestes_ ("flesh-robber") was likely a herbivore. _Arrhinoceratops_ ("without nose-horn face") DID have a nasal horn. _Telmatosaurus_ ("swamp lizard") probably did not live in marshes or swamps. Ditto for _Elosaurus_ (now a synonym of _Apatosaurus_). Perhaps the most notorious example is _Oviraptor_ ("egg-thief"), so named because (says Osborn) it was thought to have been caught "in the very act of robbing the dinosaur egg nest [of _Protoceratops_]." (Hence the derivation of the species name _philoceratops_). It turns out that the nest belonged to _Oviraptor_. This does not mean that _Oviraptor_ did not feed on eggs, only that the circumstances that gave rise to its descriptive name were wrong.

_Nanotyrannus_ ("dwarf tyrant") may turn out to be a misleading "descriptive" name too. The genus was so named because the smallish-sized type specimen was thought to come from an adult, and the specimen was smaller than other tyrannosaurs, like _T. rex_. Now it seems fairly certain that the type specimen is juvenile, possibly of _T. rex_. However, "Nanotyrannus" may represent a young specimen of a new and LARGE species of tyrannosaur. I'm not faulting the esteemed persons who named it so; but it does illustrate the limitations of purely descriptive names.

Cheers

Tim