Monday, May 29, 2006

Animal of the Week May 29, 2006 -- Potter dragon dinosaur simon and garfunkel

Oh my god, this is amazing! A flat-headed pachycephalosaur from the late cretaceous of North America. They've only been found in Asia before. And that's one in the eye for all the people who think that the flat headed type preceded the dome heads! What...?! You're not interested in that? Are you crazy?! Oh, OK then, we'll appropriate a name from some wildly popular cultural phenomenon... cool, lets say it looks like a dragon from the Harry Potter series and name it Dracorex hogwartsia. Now you're interested right?

I'm sure you're all reading Proust, Cervantes, and selected essays by Hazlitt rather than kids' books (unless you're a kid, although nephew, Thomas, is most likely reading some weighty tome about dinosaurs), so I'll explain that Hogwarts is the school of wizardry at which Harry Potter is annoyingly successful at everything, is inexplicably excused all manner of misdemeanours, and despite being a despicable sycophant remains popular with staff and peers -- so I am told.

This newly discovered dinosaur lived 66 million years ago, the twilight years of the dinosaurs, in South Dakota, the twighlight state of the USA. Its thick skull and collection of bumps, knobs, and spikes suggest that like other pachycephalosaurs D hogwartsia fought by head-butting. The ornamentation of their heads led to comparisons to a dragon described in one of Rowling's books and hence the name given by palaeontologist Robert Bakker.

Bakker has form so to speak, other dinosaurs he has named include Attenborosaurus (after David), Bambiraptor (after Disney's deer), and Drinker nisti (after the National Institutes of Standards and Technology -- part of the US Dept of Commerce). Still, Bakker is by no means the worst offender for such tomfoolery, Leigh Van Valen spent much of the 70s naming extinct mammals of North America after obscure characters and objects from The Lord of the Rings. My present favourite examples of naming species after things are two trilobites (extinct sea creatures) in the genus Avalanchurus with the species names simoni and garfunkeli. Should I ever have a child I will call it Garfunkeli.


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