For those of you who didn’t spend your entire childhoods alternately wanting to be a palaeontologist and wishing you were a dinosaur, ceratopsians are large, typically quadrupedal herbivores with bony frills extending from the backs of their skulls and, often, various spikes, bumps, or horns on their heads (“ceratops”, a traditional part of many names in this taxon, means, roughly, horned-face in Greek). Think Triceratops. Their elaborate headgear could be defensive or a sexual ornament; probably a bit of both.
I was looking through this list of dinosaurs described in 2010 and noticed that many of the new ceratopsians had wickedly badass names. Hence this post, which will feature genera both new and old. In no particular order:
Mojoceratops – a new genus that came out of a re-examination of old specimens. I quote the paper’s etymology section directly:
From mojo (early 20th century African-American English) a magic charm or talisman, often used to attract members of the opposite sex (in reference to the elaborate frill, which may have functioned in courtship), ceras (Greek) horn, and ops (Greek), face.
Only amusing because of the previous: Ojoceratops. (Let’s pretend it’s not pronounced “oh-ho”.) Named for the Ojo Alamo Formation where it was found.
Diabloceratops has two large horns on the back of its frill.
Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei may not be a real ceratopsian (it’s known only from a bit of arm bone), but if it is, it’s the only one known from Australia. The serendipitous part refers to someone happening to notice that the fossil looked like a ceratopsian. And the specific epithet, obviously, refers to the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey among other science fiction classics. It’s cute that they even put the middle initial in.
Agathaumas may or may not be a valid genus (Wikipedia article explains this a bit more). Its name can mean “great wonder” or “great monster”, and it was actually the first ceratopsian described. I like how the name conveys the sheer “holy shit this thing was HUGE” that must have struck everyone at the time of its discovery.
Kosmoceratops sounds like it was named by a bunch of hippies. Or a bunch of teenage girls. But actually, kosmos is Greek for ornament or decoration, and Kosmoceratops is the most ornamented dinosaur known. Cool pictures at left.
Tatankaceratops is kind of fun to say. “Tatanka” is the Lakota Sioux word for bison—a modern animal that is comparable in size and possibly also in ecology (a grazer that travels in large herds) to ceratopsians. The description of this genus acknowledges that the Lakota Sioux are the original owners of the land on which the fossil was discovered, and this acknowledgement is important in a field where land claims have sometimes led to tension.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is another ceratopsian named after the bison: Einiosaurus, whose name comes from the Blackfeet language. I’m not sure how to pronounce its name but it is one crazy-looking animal.
Also fun to say: Coahuilaceratops was named after the part of Mexico in which it was found (it’s also Mexico’s first ceratopsian species). It’s meant to be pronounced “koh-WHE-lah-SARA-tops”.
Best for last: Medusaceratops lokii is definitely the most awesome dinosaur name ever (well, and perhaps you should know that yours truly has a bit of an obsession with Medusa). The spikes at the edges of this dinosaur’s frill reminded its discoverers of snakes. And I suppose something could be made of the fossil being stone. The specific epithet refers to Loki, the mischief-making Norse god, and was chosen because of “the confusion experienced in trying to assign taxonomic designations to the material collected from this bonebed.” (Originally, all the bones at the discovery site were identified as Albertaceratops, and only recently have some of them been identified as a new species.) Jokes about the difficulty of identifying or classifying species are not unusual, but names like difficilis or anomalus would be more typical. I think invoking Loki is far cleverer and more playful.