I saw this story the other day — about Nicholas Longrich, a postdoctoral assistant at Yale, who discovered and named a new species of dinosaur: The Mojoceratops.
As you can see from the picture at right, the dino had quite an ornate skull, so apparently, when they were discussing what to name it, in jest, Longrich suggested the name. As it turns out, the name stuck, which works out.
From the article —
It was only after coming up with the unusual name that Longrich looked into its etymology. Surprisingly, he found that it was a perfect fit for the species, which sported a flamboyant, heart-shaped frill on its head.
“I discovered that ‘mojo’ is an early 20th-century African-American term meaning a magic charm or talisman, often used to attract members of the opposite sex,” he said. “This dinosaur probably used its frill to attract mates, so the name made sense.” The full name is Mojoceratops perifania, with “perifania” meaning pride in Greek. (The other part of the name mojoceratops follows the convention of other related species, with “ceras” being Greek for horn and “ops” being Greek for face.)
While all ceratopsids have frills on the tops of their skulls, “Mojoceratops is the most ostentatious,” Longrich said, adding that their frill is also the most heart-shaped of all the related species.
As most of you already know, despite its size, Connecticut is a regular hotbed for dino lovers. From Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill to the wonderful specimens (and mural) in the great hall of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in New Haven to The Dinosaur Place near Ledyard, there’s plenty of dino history for nearly any level of aspiring paleontologist.
Of course, like any one who is enthralled by dinosaurs, I’m envious of Nicholas Longrich. The idea of being the first to discover a new species of anything is very exciting, especially when that something that has been dead for a few hundred million years — sort of like finding a needle under a prehistoric haystack.
When you think about it, the whole process of dinosaur fossilization is remarkable — it requires a set of very specific circumstances, including the creature having died a quick death in a spot with the appropriate sediment, like a riverbed or lake. And then the creature would have had to been covered quickly with sediment before it could decompose properly.
Talk about being in the wrong spot at the right time!
I heard one paleontologist speculate that we still really don’t have a good idea of what that time on the planet was like because all we have to go on are the fossils of creatures that were lucky (or unlucky) enough to become fossils. In other words, who knows how many more species of creatures, plants, etc. that there may have been in the Earth’s history that just died and decomposed under normal circumstances, leaving no trace.
Think about it this way — forgetting about what we’ve built as a civilization, it’d be like trying to figure out the entire human race by the relatively few human fossils that have been discovered in the occasional lake bed, peat bog or cave, as well as a few mummies, bodies that ended up dumped in heavy sediment conditions and, of course, the body of Jimmy Hoffa. Not exactly a complete picture.
On a side note, if you Google “How does a dinosaur fossil form?” (or something similar), there are a disturbingly high number of responses by Christian groups suggesting that dinos didn’t exist or were placed under the earth by Satan. Really — try it. It’s more scary than facing a T-Rex!