Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Sunday in the Chicago Tribune.
The revisionists have been busy lately, and it's all bad news. Pluto is not a planet. Al Gore is not a Boy Scout. Cough syrup doesn't work. And now there's no such thing as a Triceratops.
Researchers from Montana State University have determined that the beloved three-horned dinosaur wasn't really a distinct genus but the juvenile version of Torosaurus, long believed to be its larger cousin.
Though both dinosaurs sported three facial horns, the Torosaurus had a bigger "frill" -- the bony shield atop its head -- with two large holes in it. In more than 100 years of studying fossils, though, paleontologists had never found the remains of a young Torosaurus. Eureka! After close inspection, the Montana team concluded that the smaller specimens labeled Triceratops simply hadn't lived long enough to develop the big, holey frill that would identify them as Torosaurus.
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That's a disturbing notion to generations of Trike lovers, whether their reference point is Uncle Beasley (hatched by a chicken in the 1956 kids' book "The Enormous Egg") or Cera (the singing Three-Horn in the animated "Land Before Time" films) or Kota ( Hasbro's interactive animatron dino). Baby Torosauruses all, it turns out.
This isn't the first time the paleontologists have changed their story about an iconic dinosaur. Back in 1975, they announced that the Brontosaurus never existed, shaking our faith in the authenticity of "The Flintstones." Brontosaurus was actually an Apatosaurus, but confusion reigned because the first Brontosaurus assembled from fossilized remains somehow ended up with the wrong head. But anyway, the name Apatosaurus was published first, so it was bye-bye, Brontosaurus.
That same line of thinking may yet preserve the Triceratops, though we're prepared to offer a more modern argument for this Late Cretaceous dilemma. We're thinking, of course, about search engine optimization. You'll get a lot more hits on Google if you type in Triceratops instead of Torosaurus, and if you don't understand why that matters, you're, well, a dinosaur. So let's agree: A Triceratops isn't a baby Torosaurus -- a Torosaurus is a grown-up Triceratops.
Triceratops is extinct. But Torosaurus never happened.