by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation
Meet the newest of the frill-crested herbivores: Mojoceratops.
Discovered in the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, the skull of Mojoceratops is making headlines for two reasons. First, the heart-shaped frill on this dinosaur makes its head adornment one of the largest and most interesting looking of the ceratopsians. Second, the dinosaur’s name, “Mojoceratops,” started out as a joke suggestion after the paleontologists brainstorming what to name it had a few beers. Joke name or not, it was catchy, it stuck, and now that the name has been formally published, it’s here for good.
There are strict rules for name new organisms, all governed by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The scientific names we use today (e.g. humans are Homo sapiens) was developed by Carl Linneaus, and the rule is that the person (or persons) who discover the new organism get to do the naming. There are many different ways to chose a new organism’s name: describing an unusual feature of their appearance, naming the location where the organism was found, or naming it to honor another person are all common.
Another common trend in naming? Scientists using the opportunity as a chance to be funny. That’s how the world got the snake genus Montypythonus, or the clam species Abra cadabra. Paleontologists aren’t immune from wanting to inject a little humor into their discoveries, so in honor of Mojoceratops, here are some other fossil names that will give you a chuckle (or at least make you go, “huh?”).
- Aegrotocatellus jaggeri – a trilobite named after Mick Jagger (and, oddly enough, Aegrotocatellus means “sick puppy” in Latin. Go ahead and figure that one out).
- Avalanchurus lennoni, A. starri, A. simoni, A. garfunkeli – more trilobites, named after John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. What about Paul McCartney and George Harrison?
- Elivisaurus – Sadly, this name is no longer official (and Cryolophosaurus just doesn’t have the same ring to it). But, for a time this crested dinosaur, the first discovered in Antarctica, shared a name (and a similar hairdo) with the King of Rock.
- Arthurdactylus conan-doylensis – a pterodactyl named for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote The Lost World, a book about a hidden plateau in South America where dinosaurs still lived.
- Dracorex hogwarsia – Translate this Latin into English, and you get “Dragon King of Hogwarts.”
- Ichabodcraniosaurus – this velociraptor-like dinosaur skeleton was found without its head, and named in homage to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In the story, the protagonist, Ichabod Crane, was chased by the Headless Horseman. I don’t think I’d have wanted to be chased by this dinosaur, either, headless or not.
- Mimatuta morgoth, Alletodon mellon, Mithrandir sp., Oxyprimus galadrielae, Protungulatum gorgun – The paleontologist who named these prehistoric mammals like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series. A lot. Look at the scientific names and you’ll find: “Morgorth” – the Dark Lord, “mellon” – Elvish for “friend” and the password to enter the mines of Moria, “Mithrandir” – another name for the wizard Gandalf, “galadrielae” – the elf Lady Galadriel, and “gorgun” – the Orcs.
- Eucritta melanolimnetes – A tetrapod whose name translates to “Creature from the Black Lagoon”
- Halticosaurus – A dinosaur from the late Triassic period whose name means “Leaping Lizard”
- Gojirasaurus – Another dinosaur from the late Triassic period, named after another fearsome lizard. “Gojira” is the Japanese name for Godzilla.
- Technosaurus – Technically, this dinosaur is named after Texas Tech University. But I prefer to think it’s because the fossil was found with a glowstick in its claws.
What about the rest of you – know any fun and/or interesting dinosaur names?