The dinosaur formerly known as Torosaurus: The recently installed Torosaurus (now Triceratops) guarding the front of Yale's Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT will probably require some text changes in its plaque.
The dinosaur formerly known as Torosaurus: The recently installed Torosaurus (now Triceratops) guarding the front of Yale's Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT will probably require some text changes in its plaque.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Othniel C. Marsh must be spinning in his grave… again. Two more of the dinosaurs the Yale paleontologist named in the late 19th century have been determined to be the same genus. It’s not that big a surprise. More than a hundred years ago Marsh and his arch-nemesis Edward Drinker Cope were in such a hurry to outdo each other during the infamous “Bone Wars” they were naming new genera and species left and right, and as fast as they could get them out of the ground.

In 1889 Marsh’s best field collector, John Bell Hatcher uncovered the first Triceratops remains in Wyoming. Marsh named it Triceratops (which means “three horned-face” because of the horns projecting from its nose and frill. Two years later, Hatcher unearthed a similar horned dinosaur that Marsh christened Torosaurus (“pierced lizard”). Triceratops figure by O. C. Marsh c. 1890
Triceratops figure by O. C. Marsh c. 1890Courtesy Mark Ryan
Both creatures had three horns but Triceratops’ bony frill was a continuous fan shape, while the Torosaurus’ frill was longer and had two large oval openings (fenestrae). This difference in configuration led Marsh to believe he had discovered two different types of dinosaurs.

But now a new study by paleontologists from Montana State University says the Triceratops and Torosaurus genera are one and the same, and the former is just a younger, immature version of the latter. Under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) rules of nomenclature the name of the earlier discovery takes precedence. The research appears in the latest issue of the Journal for Vertebrate Paleontology, and was led by paleontologists John Scannella, and Jack Horner.

Misnaming dinosaurs isn’t that uncommon (see previous Buzz post ). Fossils originally thought to be from different genera or species are often - after further study - determined to be from the same beast. Probably the most well known example is that of the Jurassic sauropods Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus. It was again Professor Marsh who had named and described both specimens but decades later they were declared to be one and the same dinosaur. Despite being a nearly complete skeleton compared to the Apatosaurus’s sparse sacrum and vertebrae, the poor Brontosaurus name was shelved by the scientific community because it had been named later.

As bad as the latest findings are for O. C. Marsh’s shrinking menagerie, they’re even worse for dinosaurs themselves.

"A major decline in diversity may have put the dinosaurs in a vulnerable state at the time when the large meteor struck the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period," Scannella said. "It may have been the combination of the two factors -- lower diversity and a major global catastrophe -- that resulted in the extinction of all the non-avian dinosaurs."

What I’d like to know is just how large did a young Triceratops get before his frill shape began to mature into an adult form? The literature all seems to list the Torosaurus as smaller in stature than Triceratops. Of course animals no matter what species come in all sorts of sizes, and this includes we humans (e.g. seventh graders can often tower over their middle-aged teachers). The Triceratops skeleton here at the Science Museum of Minnesota is considered the largest mounted specimen in the world. If that’s the case, and it is only an immature specimen, then he was one big boy.


Discovery News story
Montana State University press release
Marsh and Cope and the Bone Wars

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

scott summers's picture
scott summers says:

There is one recent update about the Torosaurus or now called as Triceratops, the horns they were having was not only for deffence but it was mostly for the mating purpose, they used to attract females by show their fabulous and perfect horns and females would only mate with the one who has perfect horns.

posted on Fri, 07/23/2010 - 2:13am
jameshyia's picture
jameshyia says:

that is so cool

posted on Mon, 05/16/2011 - 9:26am
Thor's picture
Thor says:

It's bad enough that dinosaurs had to go extinct. Now some of their discoveries are going extinct, too!!!

posted on Fri, 07/23/2010 - 10:20am
Shana's picture
Shana says:

I prefer brontosaurus and I think I will continue defiantly using that name instead.

posted on Fri, 07/23/2010 - 11:59am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I'm a brontophile, too!

posted on Fri, 07/23/2010 - 4:49pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

"Brontosaurus" should definately be the name for that particular species of dinosaur, because the public at large has known it by that name for years. However, I have never heard of an "Apatosaurus" before. Perhaps it would be best to allot dinosaurs' names according to how most people refer to them? If that were done, it might help the public better understand what you scientists are discovering. :)

posted on Fri, 07/30/2010 - 9:09am
Silver Fang's picture
Silver Fang says:

Wouldn't the fact that there are some known larger triceratops than torosaurus negate the idea of triceratops being juveniles while torosaurus was the adult?

posted on Sat, 07/31/2010 - 2:43pm
greenguy's picture
greenguy says:

In my city we have a museum that has huge dinosaur displays. Despite being labelled as something for children it is beyond cool even for an adult. On a field trip to the museum we learned about the Triceratops and the Torosaurus being of the same genera. Seems that research and such is ever changing. We may find one day all of us are of the same genera. Food for thought, huh?

posted on Mon, 10/03/2011 - 10:54am
jmerkoward's picture
jmerkoward says:

Where did the dinosaurs go? Nobody know how to explain that. There are only theories meteor, climate change. imagine that: If they were not extinct, we wouldn't be here today...

posted on Mon, 06/16/2014 - 1:09pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options