What's in a dinosaur name?

Sep 17, 2008
What’s in a dinosaur name?
The type specimen of Yinlong downsi, a plant-eating dinosaur from the Jurassic of China, named by Xu Xing and colleagues in 2006. Xu Xing is the most prolific namer of new dinosaurs: this is his twenty-fifth new species. The type specimen is essentially complete, typical of the good practice of most workers today. Photo by Xu Xing

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new species of dinosaur is named somewhere in the world every two weeks. But are they all new species, or do the newly-discovered bones really belong to a dinosaur already identified?

Biologists have long been aware of the ‘alias problem’ which refers to the number of times when one species has been given more than one name. Recent studies on dinosaurs have shown that the error rate may be as high as 50 per cent.

In a study published today in Biology Letters, Professor Michael Benton of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol looked at the original descriptions of all 1,047 species of dinosaurs ever named, from 1824 to the present day, and assessed the quality of the specimens on which the names were founded – the type specimens.

Professor Benton said: “The bane of the dinosaurologist’s life is species that have been named on the basis of incomplete specimens. In Victorian times, palaeontologists were keen to name new species, and in the excitement of the great ‘bone wars’ for example, from 1870 to 1890, they rushed into print with new names for every odd leg bone, tooth, or skull cap that came their way. Later work, on more complete specimens, reduced more than 1000 named dinosaurs to 500 or so.”

Professor Benton’s new research shows that although the ‘error rate’ in naming dinosaurs has been high in the past, scientific practice has improved enormously in recent years. This means that in fact most new dinosaur species announced today are likely to be correctly named.

Up to 1960, more than half of all new species were based on scrappy type specimens. But since 1960, the great majority of new species are founded on more or less complete specimens, sometimes even whole skeletons.

“This means that most of the new species will probably survive scrutiny,” said Professor Benton. “It’s not often you can demonstrate a real improvement in scientific practice, but this is one case we can be grateful for.”

Provided by University of Bristol

Explore further: Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers name new insect for 'Harry Potter' creature

Nov 20, 2014

The series of "Harry Potter" fantasy books was the inspiration for the naming of a new insect discovered by NDSU researchers. The species of stink bug was named "Thestral incognitus," after the imaginary ...

New dinosaur species unearthed in Venezuela

Oct 08, 2014

(Phys.org) —A team of paleontologists with members from Brazil, Venezuela, the U.S. and Germany has found fossil evidence of a previously unknown dinosaur in Venezuela. In their paper published in the journal ...

Recommended for you

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

Nov 21, 2014

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

Mysterious glowworm found in Peruvian rainforest

Nov 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer has discovered what appears to be a new type of bioluminescent larvae. He told members of the press recently that he was walking near a camp in the Peruvian ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.