STL Science Center

STL Science Center

05 February 2016

Thieving Dakota

Emily Willoughby
Recently, as recent as 2015, a new dromaeosaur was described by DePalma, et al. after its discovery and retrieval from South Dakota in 2005. Estimated sizes range from 5 to 6 meters for the large dromaeosaur Dakotaraptor steini. The existing animal consists of vertebral, forelimb, and hindlimb remains, including a number of the large foot claws that are diagnostic of the dromaeosaur family in general. The large dinosaur has many unique attributes and includes pneumatized trabecular bones. This dinosaur was built for many purposes and the most important attribute of the whole organism was the fact that the dinosaur was built for speed and absolute carnage, as a carnivorous dinosaur. Additionally though, dromaeosaurs are often considered to have had pack mentalities and the capacity for pack-like parenting skills. All of these skeletal characteristics and unknown but hypothesized behavioral traits will be of great importance throughout the week as we paint a more complete picture of Dakotaraptor.

04 February 2016

Famous in Error

Serendipaceratops is not necessarily a tragic tale of errors and mistakes, but it could be said to be a cautionary tale on both sides of the debate about the validity of the taxon. There are far better examples (e.g. named dinosaur genera such as Triceratops and Nannotyrannus) but the message is the same regardless. That message is, to put it in the most basic terms, take paleontology and fossils with a healthy level of skepticism. Fossils are difficult to describe and at times are very hard to diagnose and place within genera, let alone species. I have personal experience with the description of fossils (a publication that I have unjustly put on the back burner for the moment) and I promise that fragmentary evidence is simultaneously exciting and frustrating. The excitement of fragments, like the ulna of Serendipaceratops, lies in the fact that one is holding a small percentage of a dinosaur and attempting to use the collective knowledge of many paleontologists, plus their own expertise in the case of well-traveled scientists like Rich and Vickers-Rich, and attempting to suss out what that fragment of animal represents as a whole organism. The frustration actually stems from the exact same source; sussing out such things from fragments can be horrendous. The fame of Serendipaceratops is deeply embedded in the mystery and intrigue of its description and missing  anatomy. Enjoy Serendipaceratops for what it really is: a fossil with uncertain origins that is in debate but certainly has a storied past that makes more and more people want to know more about paleontology and its history.

03 February 2016

Throwing Elbows

The ulna forms the pointy bit of our elbow as the olecranon process rotates about the trochlea. The olecranon of Serendipaceratops is broken and completely absent from the solitary ulna that was recovered. Due to the fact that the olecranon is missing our hypotheses about the shape of the elbow as a whole unit are somewhat lacking. The hypotheses that have been made are based on the olecranons of other neoceratopsians like Leptoceratops of Canada. Some of the subsequent studies mentioned yesterday have refuted this comparison as well however.

02 February 2016

A Scholarly Serendipaceratops

I skipped yesterday's post ignominiously. I was not pleased with the idea that I was about to post something that had no content; there are no movies or documentaries that discuss Serendipaceratops online and, as far as I can tell, there may not be anything, even news, that broadcast the discovery or details about the dinosaur ever. The questionable nature of the dinosaur's validity makes this make a lot of sense. However, the debatable nature of the dinosaur lends itself really well to Tuesday and the discussion of papers that are available on the dinosaur. After 10 years of being excavated, shelved, and described the announcing publication for Serendipaceratops was made available in Records of the Queen Victoria Museum. It did not take long for the collaborative description (Dale Russell was consulted as well) to be questioned and thrown out by other researchers. In 2010 Agnolin,et al. analyzed the fossil and determined that the dinosaur was nomen dubium. Presently the last word rests with Rich et al. who, in 2014,  team admitted that the dinosaur was enigmatic at best when they named the new genus. However, the team re-examined the fossil and determined that the holotype was distinctively different from other known ulnae and distinctive enough to be diagnostic as a holotype for the named genus. This argument may be long from over and more fossils may be discovered eventually, but it has been 16 years, so no one is waiting with baited breath at the moment. The fact that the argument is not simply cladistic/taxonomic lumpers and splitters arguing about the position of a fossil is promising regardless. Typically the debates of lumping and splitting taxa have a potential risk of becoming ugly and bitter. This debate, as yet, does not appear to have turned that corner.

31 January 2016

Small Consolations

There are a number of fact pages online, though none are comprehensive and a number of them conclude with the argument that this dinosaur does not exist. Some of these end this way because they are old enough to have not been edited since the 2014 study mentioned earlier (to be discussed later) and some disregarded that study. Regardless, the number of fact pages is healthy, but small. The debates, if not the fact files, are good reading and discuss some of the main arguments for and against that have been mentioned here. These pages include:
Dann's Dinosaur Info
Everything Explained

30 January 2016

Illustrations with No Basis

The fact that an ulna is the holotype and the only anatomical remains that exist for Serendipaceratops means that we have no real idea what the dinosaur would have looked like. Inferred depictions of the dinosaur are based on the basal-most members of the tree and known neoceratopsians. Looking closely, the interpretations of Serendipaceratops appear very similar to many of the images of of Protoceratops. Considering that the ulna is the only information available, a complex inference like this is merely speculation. The controversy of the validity of the taxon makes that speculation even more difficult to accept as fact, though that may change with the discovery of more fossils, if that occurs in the future.

29 January 2016


As an ode to the calendar, or maybe just because I think it is interesting to make the last week of every month "calendar week", we are going to discuss the dinosaurs that are featured in space on the calendar I bought from Brynn Metheney. This month's dinosaur is Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei. An Australian discovery, Serendipaceratops is a questioned genus that is typically considered a nomen dubium. The back and forth disagreement between validity and not is weakly argued and not currently ongoing, but there are a number of reasons that the argument has taken place. The initial material of discovery consists of an ulna that has been described and disputed, but has been placed, as far as official placement has allowed, in a basal position within ceratopsians. Statistical studies conducted on the ulna have been used to secure this placement, but these have been doubted in the past. The studies for and against this dinosaur will have to be considered this week and discussed accordingly.