How shape-shifting dinosaurs deceived us

Monday, August 9, 2010

DINOSAURS were shape-shifters. Their skulls underwent extreme changes throughout their lives, growing larger, sprouting horns then reabsorbing them, and changing shape so radically that different stages look to us like different species.

This discovery comes from a study of the iconic dinosaur triceratops and its close relative torosaurus. Their skulls are markedly different but are actually from the very same species, argue John Scannella and Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

Triceratops had three facial horns and a short, thick neck-frill with a saw-toothed edge. Torosaurus also had three horns, though at different angles, and a much longer, thinner, smooth-edged frill with two large holes in it. So it's not surprising that Othniel Marsh, who discovered both in the late 1800s, considered them to be separate species.


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