Human endeavors are often fueled by rivalries. Or downright animosity. Paleontology is no different and many of the most significant discoveries about dinosaurs and their world have been borne out of professional and personal quarrels between scientists. On this day in dinosaurs, let’s remember a few of the most significant quarrels.
Owen vs. Mantell
Gideon Mantell was the first dinosaur obsessive. After describing the Iguanodon, Mantell became increasingly fixated on the prehistoric world and ignored his own, causing friction with his wife and children (who ultimately left him). Meanwhile, the brilliant Richard Owen classified the “dinosauria” and sought to undermine much of Mantell’s success. Though these two were clearly rivals during their lives, the science that they helped to found became much more than their feud.
Cope vs. Marsh
This is the grand-daddy of all dinosaur debacles. Books have been filled with the details and generations of scientists and the general public have reaped the rewards of the tussle between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. The American dinosaurs that are famous and beloved around the globe are largely the legacy of these two great, and stubbornly antagonistic, men.
The Metabolic Conflicts
One of the most controversial tenets of the dinosaur renaissance in the latter stages of the 20th century was assertion that dinosaurs might have been warm-blooded. This debate was not waged by two people but by two factions. The old guard resisted while the younger scientists came to the battle armed with an arsenal of new weapons–cladistic analyses, collaborations with other scientific fields, and a host of new discoveries. There were associated battles as well–a heated one about the dinosaurian origin of flight and a battle largely inflated by the media about whether T. rex was a hunter or scavenger. The dinosaur enlightenment is now progressing to further these ideas and bring us closer to the truth of the mysterious Mesozoic.
Dinosaurs have always stoked our primal passions, but these arguments and scientific jousts are all necessary to create stronger arguments. While the rivalries seem to be a bit more civil since Cope and Marsh’s time, there are still some highly debated topics, including whether or not Nanotyrannus is a new species or merely a juvenile T. rex, whether Spinosaurus is as wildly different as some researchers believe, and even the new dinosaur classification system–which may supplant Seeley’s long-standing saurischian and ornithiscian groupings. Time will tell.
Until then, we want to hear from you! Share your favorite dinosaur feuds (including ones we didn’t address) with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.
On this day in dinosaurs the Academy of Natural Sciences closed its commemorative exhibit on America’s first dinosaur discovery. Hadrosaurus foulkii: The Dinosaur That Changed the World focused on the sensational discovery of a semi-complete dinosaur skeleton in Haddonfield, New Jersey–several miles from the Academy’s home in Philadelphia.
In 1868, ten years after the bones were scientifically described, the Academy mounted the skeleton for the public, the first time this had been done anywhere in the world. Hadrosaurus became a sensation throughout the United States. It was mounted in several other locations and turned the Academy into the birthplace of American dinosaur paleontology.
Learn more about the exhibit:
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Dinosaur names seem odd. They’re polysyllabic, with weird and wonderful combinations of sounds that aren’t always recognizable to modern ears. This is because traditional dinosaur names are derived from ancient Greek, as was the nomenclatural custom of 19th century naturalists. Today, words from popular culture or native peoples around the world are used to spice up and personalize the names of the new dinosaurs we find.
But you don’t have to be so confused when trying to read or understand the names of dinosaurs. Many are constructed with common elements. Here’s a handy list of some of the most popular words you’ll find in Mesozoic monikers:
saurus – lizard (the ancient Greeks had no word for ‘reptile’ or what we call ‘archosaurs’ today)
dino/deino – terrible
don – tooth
mega – giant
bronto – thunder
mimus – mimic
ornitho – bird
ovi – egg
raptor – thief
ceratops – horned
Those should be a good guide to get you started if you’re new to dinosaurs. If you’re an old pro, we want to hear your favorite dinosaur names and what they mean. Share yours with us us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.
On this day in dinosaurs, a double feature with great expeditions and zany films.
1922 – First Asiatic Expedition Leaves Peking
Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History led the First Central Asiatic Expedition out of what was then known as Peking on this day in 1922. The caravan was bound for Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, where Andrews would lead several outrageously expensive and well publicized trips in subsequent years.
Andrews wrote his memoirs of these adventures in several books and the Central Asiatic Expeditions are most fondly remembered for the discovery of the Flaming Cliffs, Velociraptor, Oviraptor, and Protoceratops skeletons, and the first dinosaur eggs ever discovered.
1981 – Caveman hits theaters
Set in “One Zillion B.C.”, this madcap movie features dinosaurs, cave-people, and a tagline that says it all: “They didn’t call it the ‘Stone Age’ for nothing.”
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1999 – Walking With Dinosaurs appears on TV in the USA
On this day in dinosaurs, the documentary series that many argue is the greatest ever dealing with dinosaurs first conquered the American airwaves. The BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs series incorporated the computer generated animation that made Jurassic Park so captivating, along with the gripping storytelling of nature documentaries. This new vision of the dinosaur documentary changed the landscape for paleontological entertainment and paved the way for almost everything that has come along since.
It’s difficult to imagine just how gigantic a change WWD represented. Before the series swept the UK, the US, and the rest of the planet, dinosaur documentaries were plodding affairs that used a variety of storytelling devices including paleo-art, interviews with experts, animations, stock footage from classic films, puppetry, and a lot of fossil hall footage.
The series went on to spawn a variety of sequels, a feature film, and a theatrical stage spectacular.
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On this day in dinosaurs, the Nation’s T. rex arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History ahead of its full unveiling as part of the much anticipated Hall of Deep Time, which will open to the public in 2019.
The Smithsonian has long coveted an authentic fossil specimen of the world’s most famous dinosaur. Until recently, a cast replica of the beast (‘Stan’ to be precise) has been on display. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has come to the rescue, loaning this Tyrannosaurus to the museum for at least the next 50 years.
This T. rex is nearly complete and was discovered in 1990 by Kathy Wankel. The big brute was known as the “Wankel Rex” for years, as it took up residence at The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Now, it will become one of the showpieces in the Smithsonian’s grand pageant of life through the ages.
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On this day in dinosaurs, the great name is first written. For the first time in history, the dinosaurs get their name.
Sir Richard Owen, the brilliant and egomaniacal anatomist, coined the word ‘dinosauria’ meaning ‘fearfully great’ or ‘terrible’ lizards. On this day in 1842, 1,500 copies of Owen’s Report on British Fossil Reptiles was published. In the report, Owen first described dinosaurs as being a distinct group of extinct animals that shared anatomical characteristics.
The most notable of these, according to Owen, was the fusion of the sacral vertebrae–the bones at the base of the hips and lower back. Owen noticed the fused sacral vertebrae in Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus–classifying the three into his new Dinosauria. The fused sacral vertebrae, Owen argued, confirmed that dinosaurs were adapted to a life on land. This adaptation helped support their immense weight.
While Owen was a successful man, by any measure, his highs and lows as both a person and a scientist are all overshadowed by the contribution he made on this day in dinosaurs–giving us the most alluring, exciting, and deliciously sonorous name for our favorite Mesozoic creatures.
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In modern society, you don’t want to be labeled “a dinosaur.” The word strongly conjures feelings of extreme old age, bound for extinction, past one’s prime. In a word, a dinosaur is something outdated. But this unfortunate preference toward obsolescence is a trick of language, not a reflection of reality. If there’s anything someone wants to be, it’s most certainly a dinosaur.
Firstly, dinosaurs are neither complete extinct, nor obsolete. Their direct descendants, birds, are more varied and vivacious today than in the Mesozoic–living in the most extreme climates on the planet and continue to carry the dinosaur trademarks in their bodies and in their DNA. Dinosaurs are physically still with us.
But dinosaurs are with us in our imaginations as well. We humans are beguiled by the non-avian giants, the titans of their time. We are spellbound by their skeletons and yearn to know more about their lives. Some of us spend our entire lives hunting their remains while our museums accept tens of millions of visitors each year to see Mesozoic relics up close. The last of the non-avian dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago and yet we–who never saw a living non-avian dinosaur–pursue them past the boundaries of death and time.
So “dinosaur” isn’t really a great ‘dig’ (okay, I have to confess I really did not intend that pun, but once I wrote it there was absolutely no way I could retract it. I also can’t apologize for it.). We should want our descendants to survive for millions of years. We should aim to inspire the generations to come. And, like the dinosaurs, we should be ready to adapt and change with the challenges nature presents to us. Because we are newcomers–a few million years and most species are extinct. But the dinosaur lineage persisted for something like 150 million years. Anyone should be happy to be dubbed a dinosaur.
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On this day in dinosaurs, a new, “prominent toothed” carnivore emerged from the geologic abyss.
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico is synonymous with the Triassic dinosaur, Coelophysis. The remains of this bipedal creature are numerous and blocks of stone loaded up with skeletons of Coelophysis have been retrieved from the site for decades. One of these blocks, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was being prepared at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, when a volunteer preparator found something unusual. Several skeletal fragments in the block did not belong to Coelophysis.
After careful study, a group of researches officially named Daemonosaurus–the “prominent toothed demon reptile”–on this day in 2011. They estimate the animal was around 7 feet long and weighed around 50 pounds. There may yet be more of Daemonosaurus lurking in the Ghost Ranch rocks, among scores of Coelophysis.
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2015 – Tyrant Kings Exhibit Opens at Museum of the Rockies
On this day in dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus took center stage in Bozeman, Montana at the Museum of the Rockies. The Tyrant Kings exhibit showcases the world’s premier collection of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, including an authentic fossil skeleton that’s 40 feet long.
Another highlight of the exhibit is a T. rex skull growth series, showing how the animal grew and changed as it aged. It’s a reminder of how dynamic the lives of these long extinct animals were. The exhibit is a window into the Hell Creek Formation at the very end of the age of dinosaurs–just before the non-avian dinosaurs met their fate.
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