Monday, November 9, 2009

Name of the Year

I'm a huge fan of giving new species, especially dinosaurs, names relevant to the places where they're found. Though I admittedly used to recoil at the odd-looking names coming out of China, that was just me being a spoiled American brat. After all, if I could handle Parasaurolophus or Deinonychus, I should have had the moxie to figure out Tuojiangosaurus. In hindsight though, I guess I can't expect the younger me to understand the importance of engaging all kinds of people in science.

The point is, I love the name of the newly described Early Cretaceous ankylosaur out of Montana: Tatankacephalus cooneyorum. Bill Parsons, who discovered the fossils with his wife Kris, chose the name to honor Native American culture. Tatanka is the Oglala word for buffalo, and if you don't believe me, ask my friend Mike, who has pretty nearly memorized Dances with Wolves.
T. cooneyorum by Bill Parsons

Tatankacephalus is closely related to Gastonia, which featured prominently in Robert Bakker's paleofictional novel, Raptor Red. Both are basal in the ankylosaurid family; Tatankacephalus exhibits some "transitional" features which distinguish the well-known ankylosaurids from later in the Cretaceous. Unfortunately, we don't know for sure whether for not Tatankacephalus bore the familiar tail-club many of its relatives had.

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