It is one of the most recognisable dinosaurs, part of the Holy Trinity of childhood favourites alongside the brontosaurus and the mighty T-Rex.I guess that makes two of the "holy trinity" that never existed, as the brontosaurus also exists only as a plastic toy. It was rather funny the time I tried to explain to a friend that brontosaurus was just an apatosaurus with the head of a camarasaurus stuck on it. She simply refused to believe it - scientists had said 'brontosaurus,' and that was that*. That attitude is sadly prevalent in modern America - and it's no different from the medieval credulity many science bloggers and their sycophants spend so much time mocking.
But now scientists say that the fearsome three-horned triceratops may never have existed.
Instead new research has raised the possibility that the triceratops was just a young version of a different dinosaur known as a torosaurus.
But there is one interesting fact that often gets overlooked in these arguments about genus and specie and who is descended from whom. I quote the ultra-accurate wikipedia:
Apatosaurus excelsus (originally Brontosaurus) was named by [Othniel] Marsh in 1879. It is known from six partial skeletons, including part of a skull, which have been found in the United States, in Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. Apatosaurus louisae ... is known from one partial skeleton which was found in Colorado in the United States. Apatosaurus parvus was originally known as Elosaurus parvus, but was reclassified as a species of Apatosaurus in 1994.Now I don't know how many skeletons of the dragon formerly known as Elosaurus parvus are floating about, but I do find it interesting that the other two species of apatosaurs are based on a total of seven partial skeltons and part of a single skull**, spread over finds in four western states.
Now, perhaps that's enough evidence to come to solid conclusions about species and descent, or perhaps it's not. I take the fact that, 120 years after the discovery of triceratops**** we're still arguing over whether it even existed, to be supportive of the latter.
* well, that wasn't that: ten years later she informed me that it had been discovered that brontosaurus was just an apatasaurus with the head of camarasaurus stuck on it. Yes, I acted surprised.
** Which is why, of course, Marsh needed to borrow one*** from camarasaurus.
*** he didn't technically borrow the head, just the idea for the head. Marsh thought the head of brontosaurus ought to look like the camarasaurus, so he simply built one for his display that looked similar.
**** but not the discovery of a single complete skeleton, a story which ought to sound familiar.