Friday, March 27, 2009

Now Part of the Gang

I'm sure my fellow dinosaur enthusiasts recognize this magnificent fellow, as depicted by classic paleo-artist, Charles Knight . In fact, Triceratops is one of the best-known of all Cretaceous dinosaurs, with more than fifty specimens discovered.

Until very recently most scientists believed that these thirty foot long three-horned reptiles were anti-social, solitary creatures that wandered and forged alone. An exciting new discovery (to me, anyway) has some paleontologists convinced that they may have been quite wrong in this assumption. Certainly no shame in this. Paleontology is always evolving and reassessing itself; that's how science works, or, at least, how it should work.

Three juvenile Triceratops have been excavated in the ancient Late Cretaceous bone bed from the famous Hell Creek formation in Montana. The condition and position of the fossil skeletons seems to indicate that the young dinosaurs possibly drowned together as a result of flooding, common in this location laced at the time with flood plains and river channels. As dinosaur news goes, this is pretty major stuff.

The fact that the Triceratops trio died together lends evidence to a fairly new idea suggesting that some teenaged dinosaurs were gregariously social, possibly living in herds for protection from predators such as their fearsome contemporary Tyrannosaurus rex. With the exceptions of crocodiles and alligators, both actually distantly related to dinosaurs, no other known reptiles live in social groups.

The more we discover about dinosaurs, and their astonishingly long reign, the more complex and remarkable they become. Little wonder that they were the most diverse and successful terrestrial animals ever to live on the planet.

And, as a writer, creatively speaking, I'd be nothing without them.


  1. Cool! I like the idea of herds or flocks of dinosaurs. Thanks for the update and nice pics.

  2. With all the time we spent at the SMM together, I don't think I found out if you've ever been volunteered on a fossil dig. I'd bet such a thing would be an absolute blast to you, on personal and professional levels. Just imagine the story ideas that would come out of the experience....

  3. Umm, that's "if you've ever volunteered," not "if you've ever BEEN volunteered." I don't think there's a secret service of paleontologists out there who come a-knockin' in the wee hours of the morning. "Son, you've been volunteered by a Mr. mumble-mumble-mumble to dig up Stegosaur scat. Hope you've got your sunscreen."

  4. Hi Paul!

    Back in my college days I spent quite a few seasons at various fossil digs, for the University. This was in Kentucky excavating Pleistocene mammals, which was my area of study at that time.

    Although Bruce (the paleo curator for the Science Museum of Minnesota, for those who came in late) and I keep in touch, I have yet to work on an actual dinosaur site. Been invited a number of times, as you might imagine.

    One of these days I'm gonna up and go.

  5. Fascinating blog, Martin. Always one of my favorite Dinos and often misportrayed in movies (though exciting, as in Valley of Gwangi's classic battle.)

  6. Ahh! VALLEY OF GWANGI! One of my very favorite dinosaur movies!