Paleontology Fail

June 5th, 2009at 09:33pm Posted by Eli

fail owned pwned pictures has a most entertaining Top 10 list of embarrassing moments in the history of paleontology.  The middle four are my favorites:

4. The Caterpillars that Killed the Dinosaurs

Caterpillars evolved in the late Cretaceous period, shortly before the dinosaurs went extinct. Coincidence, or something more sinister? A while back, scientists were semi-convinced by the theory that hordes of voracious caterpillars stripped ancient forests of their leaves, causing the starvation of herbivorous dinosaurs (and of the carnivorous dinosaurs that fed on them). Death-by-caterpillar still has its adherents, but today, most experts believe the dinosaurs were done in by a massive meteor impact–which somehow sounds more convincing!

5. The Elasmosaurus with a Head on its Tail

In 1868, one of the longest-running feuds in modern science got off to a rousing start when paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope reconstructed an Elasmosaurus skeleton with its head on its tail, rather than its neck (to be fair, no one had ever seen such a long-necked reptile before). According to legend, the error was quickly pointed out (in a not-very-friendly way) by Cope’s rival, Othniel C. Marsh, the first shot in what came to be known as the “Bone Wars” of the late 19th century.

6. Hydrarchos, the Ruler of the Sea

The early 19th century was the “Gold Rush” of dinosaur paleontology, with biologists, anatomists, geologists, and just plain amateurs rushing to unearth the latest spectacular fossils. The culmination of this trend happened in 1845, when Albert Koch displayed a gigantic aquatic reptile he named Hydrarchos, which had actually been pieced together from the skeletal remains of five separate whales. After his hoax was exposed, one wag appended the species name “sillimani” to the fearsome “Hydrarchos” genus.

7. The Oviraptor that Kidnapped its Own Eggs

When the fossil of this small Mongolian theropod was discovered in 1923, its skull was only four inches away from a clutch of Protoceratops eggs, prompting paleontologist Henry Osborn to assign it the name Oviraptor (Greek for “egg thief”). For years afterward, Oviraptor lingered in the popular imagination as a wily, hungry, none-too-nice gobbler of other dinosaurs’ young. The trouble is, it was later shown that those “Protoceratops” eggs were really Oviraptor eggs, and the misunderstood reptile was simply guarding its own brood!

Shorter Paleontology: D’oh!

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science

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