Oh, come on. This is officially insane. Honestly, it is. This time they have gone too far. They are flaunting it, shoving our noses in the shards of our broken toys, heaving back their heads in gales of laughter. It's as if they told the children of the world that there's no Santa, and he wasn't going to bring them presents this year anyway, and besides he has leukemia. It's overkill. It has to stop. Those goddamn paleontologists need to come down a peg or two. And yes, this is absolutely about the Triceratops thing.
(Note to any children reading this: Santa is completely real, and leukemia is a type of candy that tastes like hugs.)
The July issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology pulls the veil off nearly 130 years of dinosaur lore — technically speaking, the Triceratops never existed. Just as our childhoods were plundered for all remaining traces of Pluto, so too have we now lost one of the coolest dinosaurs. We here at Analog Nation wanted to take a few moments to guide you through this travesty.
Q: Surely this is some kind of mistake. Triceratops never existed? A: The revelation centers around Triceratops and what was previously believed to be a close cousin, Torosaurus. Discovered in the late 19th century, a few years after Triceratops, Torosaurus had a skull that was much larger, enough to warrant classification as a new species. Triceratops went on to fame and fortune as the favorite dinosaur of discerning kids everywhere, while Torosaurus toiled in obscurity.
Q: Why has no one ever heard of this thing? A: Hard to say. Given the distinct size advantage, one would think Torosaurus would have captured kids' imaginations. The name has to be a factor. It's hard to beat "Triceratops" from a strictly phonetic standpoint, and "Torosaurus" sounds like a lawn mower. Maybe the bigger cousin didn't want it enough, maybe it just doesn't have what it takes. Like that one Manning brother who isn't an NFL quarterback.
Q: Then why do we suddenly care about Torosaurus? A: After years of intense fossil examination, the article's authors came to the conclusion that the two were not, in fact, different species. One was an adolescent specimen of the other. Triceratops was not a relative of Torosaurus, it was Torosaurus — one that had yet to reach full size. Every picture of a Triceratops you pored over in your youth, every skeleton you marveled at in a museum, all of them should have been labeled "teenage Torosaurus."
Q: Yikes. Frozen as an adolescent for all eternity? A: Jesus, don't even get me started. I never understood why someone would write "Don't ever change!" in a yearbook. I get the gist, you enjoy who I am as a person and/or can't think of anything else to write because we were never really friends and I only asked you to sign my yearbook because you sat next to me in French and were fall-down gorgeous. No one means it as a condemnation, but that's exactly what it is. To wish stasis upon an adolescent is just plain mean. If I'd stayed exactly the same as when I was sixteen, I'd be wearing an awful lot of Depeche Mode regalia beneath unbuttoned Gap shirts with the sleeves rolled up. And the skin situation would not be good. On the other hand, my eighth level drow elven cleric would probably have amassed an unspeakable fortune in magic weapons by now.
Q: How did a hundred some-odd years pass before anyone noticed? A: Part of the problem was that there aren't that many adult Torosaurus fossils to work with, possibly due to a high mortality rate before reaching adulthood, possibly due to other dinosaurs eliminating Torosaurus remains because they weren't as cool as Triceratops. Throw in the unusual degree of morphological variations, and it's impressive they managed to piece it together at all.
Q: So that's it? The Triceratops had its Quinceañera and now it's Torosaurus? Apparently.
Q: Are we going to lose Triceratops like we lost Brontosaurus? A: Holy Mother of Pringles, we better not. So far it isn't clear whether the official nomenclature will stick with Torosaurus due to this maddening technicality, or whether everyone will do the rational thing and chuck that name altogether. If we learned nothing else from paleontology's catastrophic rebranding of Brontosaurus, it's that we cannot afford to lose another of The Five.
Q: The Five? A: The five dinosaurs that every kid liked best — Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Pterodactyl.
Q: What about Veloci- A: Shut it. No one cared about Raptors until "Jurassic Park," and then it turned out they all had feathers anyway.
Q: Well ... yeah ... but ... A: But what?
Q: But ... oh, nothing. Whimper ... A: Alright, fine. If you were ten or younger when "Jurassic Park" came out, you may consider them The Six.
Q: Yaaaay! A: Unbelievable.
Q: So when the editorial staff of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology get together, that's gotta be off the hook, right? A: Oh, you have no idea. It's some next-level shit. Fast cars, pounding bass, yachts full of women, bottle after bottle of Cristal, limos with stripper poles, Vegas hotel rooms that make "The Hangover" look like some bullshit Boy Scout trip, A-list celebs, firefights with the cops, credit card bills that would make your eyes burst through the back of your head. For reals.
Q: They need to come down a peg or two. A: Damn straight.