Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Dinosaurian Misidentification

On the outside, a baby hadrosaur (left) and baby T. rex (right) don't look that similar, but  when only fossil bone fragments are discovered, misidentifications are common.
You may recall that a few months ago on the Tricera-Clash article, we spoke of the find of five Tyrannosaurus, two adults and three young ones, in one location and a Triceratops. But recent studies prove differently. My photographer, Daniel P. Smithwater and I went to Dr. Samuel and Dr. Indiana Adamson (the paleontologists who initially made the discovery) to get the full scoop on the story. “Last year, we thought we had five tyrannosaurs,” says Dr. Samuel. “But this was put in question when we took a closer look at the fossils of the baby tyrannosaurs. When we first dug them up from the ground, they were still encased in solid rock . . . here at the lab we cleaned that rock off using special equipment and finally we are thinking that things were not at all what they seemed.” After taking the rock off of the “baby tyrannosaur” specimens, the paleontologists looked at the creatures’ heads and noticed something – a duckbill! Tyrannosaurs don’t have duckbills. “When we saw the duckbills, we knew that we had been wrong before,” says Dr. Indiana. “Once we took an even closer look at the skeleton, we realized that indeed the whole body is quite different from a tyrannosaur. No, the fossils we have are from a trio of baby hadrosaurs!” Baby hadrosaurs, or duckbilled dinosaurs, are very different from tyrannosaurs, as you can plainly see in the picture above. Dr. Indiana continued, “The fossil adult T. rex however, are really T. rex. So at least we have that straight. This is not the first fossil mistake paleontologists have made. In fact, the history of paleontology is littered with mistakes!” And right Dr. Indiana is! The history of paleontology is littered with dinosaur mistakes and misidentifications. Here are a few examples:
  • Brontosaurus, one of the most famous of all dinosaurs, never existed; it was actually made up of the head of a camarasaur and the body of an apatosaur. While both are long-necked dinosaurs, they are very different.
  • A duckbilled dinosaur called Anatotitan never existed either, it is actually a member of the Edmontosaur genus.
  • A pterosaur (or flying reptile, which is not a dinosaur by the way) leg bone was thought to have been found in the Middle east. If it was a leg bone, this pterosaur might have had a wingspan of over 70 feet! However the “leg bone” was discovered to be, not from a pterosaur, but it was actually a petrified tree trunk!
  • One of the most shocking of all is when a paleontologist put the fossil bones of a swimming reptile called Elasmosaurus (not a dinosaur) and thought that it had a short neck and a very long tail. Well, he thought the bones were an “irregular fit” so he had one of his friends expect the fossils and he found the problem – the head was on the wrong end!

One of the most recent possible misidentifications is that of another tyrannosaur named “Jane”. Jane is a tyrannosaur, but scientists aren’t sure which type. She looks very different from an adult T. rex so originally she was thought to be a different species and called the new species “Nanotyrannus”. Now this has been put in question and some scientists now believe that “Nanotyrannus” is actually a juvenile T. rex. Other scientists disagree because they believe that “Nanotyrannus” has too many differences from T. rex to be a juvenile T. rex because there were more differences than is expected for a maturing tyrannosaur. So far, only two specimens of “Nanotyrannus” have been found. Until more bones are found, Jane’s fossils will still elude us!

Written by: Mr. Smiley
Photographer: Daniel P. Smithwater
Edited by: Christian Ryan

We here at Smiley’s News, I have been working night and day to get articles ready. I could really use some help! So we are looking for people interested in writing (especially kids and teens). If you are interested, PLEASE(!) send an email to and save me from working night and day! I’m exhausted!

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