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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.