Thursday, September 17, 2009

Raptorex. For serious, that's a real dinosaur now.

Above: Paul Sereno with a model and skull cast of Raptorex, possibly the most ridiculously named dinosaur of all time. Photo from Chicago Tribune by Nancy Stone.

Headline: DeviantArtist Honoured with Dinosaur Name

Well not really, but surely raptorex must be stoked that his (let's face it), fun but pretty ridiculous username is now the name of a real life dinosaur, Raptorex kriegsteini.

The mini-tyrannosaur is from the Yixian ash beds (not the more famous lake sediments that preserve feathers), and is a bit improbable in other ways than its name. It looks like a mini-Tarbosaurus, with short, two-fingered hands and long, running legs, all things expected from a juvenile tyrannosaurid, rather than a (supposed) primitive tyrannosauroid like Dilong or Guanlong. I wonder if this has implications for their position as basal tyrannosaurs--the paper, supposedly released in the online edition of Science today, is nowhere to be found, for my part.

Raptorex also has a sordid past. Apparently, the fossil was smuggled out of China and sold at (where else) the Tuscon fossil show to a private collector for tens of thousands of dollars. The collector, ophthalmologist Henry Kriegstein (whose family name is honored in the specific name of the new dino), had specialists in Utah prep it out of its matrix so he could mount it in his Massachusetts living room. Upon discovering the specimen was not a juvi tarb as advertised, but rather a full-grown individual, Paul Sereno (so that explains the name!) was called in for further advice, and recognized it as an important discovery. Kriegstein soon agreed to relinquish his purchase to science (with a bonus in the form of naming rights, of course. At least he wasn't a big Bambi fan).

In a bit of taxonomic goss, Bill Parker over at Chinleana notes that, as Kriegstein technically named the genus for his parents, not himself (which is frowned upon), the ICZN mandates that the species name needs to be emended to kriegsteinorum, so watch for that change in the future, likely published by George Olshevsky or a similar stickler for proper Latin.

And, of course, Jack Horner has weighed in. In an email to, Horner explained that he thinks the small, fleet-footed Raptorex, because it has the same body plan as larger tyrannosaurs, somehow proves that tyrannosaurs evolved into pure scavengers early on, and that the authors are jumping to conclusions in thinking that long, speed-designed legs somehow imply "predator." Keep on keepin' on, Horner.


  1. Hi,

    By the way, the ICZN recommendations (and these are recommendations) regarding personal names incorporated into species names is nicely summarized in Appendix D, Section III, p. 195, 3rd ed.:
    -i is the preferred termination, as in kriegsteini.

    And, the fossil does not come from the "ash layers" of the Yixian Formation but from teh Lujiatun beds.


  2. That comment regarding Horner is a little disingenuous because, in a sense, he does have a point. Not to imply that I agree both or either were scavengers but Sereno's coining of the term "predatory skeletal design" is a bit presumptuous and exclusive.


    Paul W.

  3. Sorry Paul, I didn't notice your comment there but I do think the term is a bit much.


    Paul W.