Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Dreadnoughtus effect: Why dinosaurs have awesome names

What do you call a gigantic lizard no human will ever see?

When paleontologists announced earlier this month that a mostly complete skeleton of a new species of giant sauropod dinosaur had been discovered in southwestern Patagonia, it was immediately clear that many things about this beast were awesome. According to scientists, the animal, which lived on the planet about 77 million years ago, would have been 85 feet long, with a 37-foot-long neck. It would have weighed 65 tons and was still growing at the time of its death, making it the largest-known land animal ever.

But among all the awesome details about the sauropod, one of the awesomest was a human touch: its name, Dreadnoughtus schrani. The dreadnought was a turn-of-the-last-century battleship, while “schrani” pays tribute to entrepreneur Adam Schran, who helped finance the research. As Slate blogger Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote, “DREADNOUGHTUS....You don’t have to write it with all capital letters, but it’s recommended.”

The scientists who named Dreadnoughtus were building on a longstanding tradition of dinosaur names that emphasize massiveness, fearsomeness, or general ability to inspire awe, from Tyrannosaurus Rex (“tyrant lizard king”) to more recent inventions like Diabloceratops (“devil-horned face”) or Anzu, named after a Sumerian winged demon. Dinosaur names have a poetry that transcends any taxonomic requirement: The names must convey the wonder that scientists feel toward these monumental, vanished beasts—and in turn capture the imaginations of kids, museum-goers, and potential donors.

Read the article here

No comments:

Post a Comment