Dear Commons Community,
In a new paper, Gregory Paul, an independent paleontologist, argues that Tyrannosaurus rex is not one but three species. The premise, put forth in his paper highlights an assortment of tensions in dinosaur paleontology, including how subjective the naming of species can be. As reported by The New York Times.
“Tyrannosaurus rex is the most iconic dinosaur. Its skeletons hold pride of place in museums around the world, and sell for millions of dollars at auction — and a bounty of relatively complete specimens have made it the most thoroughly studied dinosaur in the world.
But in a new paper published yesterday in Evolutionary Biology, three researchers argue that the animal we currently call Tyrannosaurus rex should actually be split into three separate species, with T. rex being joined by two cousins they name Tyrannosaurus imperator, or the emperor, and Tyrannosaurus regina, the queen.
“This paper is likely to rock the paleo community, and the public that is so used to good old T. rex,” said Gregory Paul, an independent paleontologist and paleoartist and author on the paper.
Tyrannosaur experts largely disagree. Thomas Carr, a paleontologist at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., calls the evidence for multiple species “vanishingly weak.” Another paleontologist removed himself as an author of the paper before it moved to publication. And curators at museums with Tyrannosaurus specimens that would be affected by these reclassifications say they aren’t going to rename anything based on the proposal.
But even if children’s imaginations never end up filled with the sharp teeth and tiny arms of three types of Tyrannosaurus, the premise put forward by Mr. Paul and his colleagues highlights an assortment of tensions in dinosaur paleontology. One is that naming dinosaur species is a subjective process, and each new species description is more of an argument than a declaration. Some researchers think that the idea of multiple Tyrannosaurus species has merit but say that splitting apart a species as famous and well-studied as Tyrannosaurus rex requires a high standard of evidence.
Whether Mr. Paul is ultimately proved right, he wouldn’t be the first researcher unaffiliated with formal institutions to shake up a consensus in the field — or the first to potentially “bite off more than he can chew.”