Nine years ago a trio of amateur paleontologists found four cervical vertebrae and a nearly complete skull of a dinosaur out in South Dakota. This finding set off a flurry of commentary in the scientific world. Some thought it represented a new species or subspecies. Others felt it was just a juvenile or perhaps female version of an already known dinosaur.
According to a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Museum of the Rockies, (from a paper on their website), “The confusion is traced to their bizarre head ornaments, ranging from shields and domes to horns and spikes, which changed dramatically with age and sexual maturity, making the heads of youngsters look very different from those of adults.” These scientists felt the new specimen was a young Pachycephalosaurus.
After some intellectual wrangling, they seem to have decided the new find IS one of the family of Pachycephalosauridae, under the genus Dracorex and the new species is called Dracorex hogwartsia. Interestingly, Dracorex means “dragon king”.
This animal had a long muzzle with a fairly flat head. It sported bumps and little horns or horn-buds on its head referred to as an “irregular osteodermal crust”. To my way of thinking, that’s pretty dragon-like.
The scientists decided this specimen was a young adult, nearing the age of maturity. It was about 10 feet (3 m) long, and was an herbivore. The animal stood upright on two back legs and had two shorter “arms” up front. The tail was long and heavily weighted. (The model in the photo to the right was made by Daren Horley.)
How it Got its Name
Upon its discovery, the skull was given to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The visiting children were inspired by the Harry Potter stories by J.K. Rowling which featured dragons in The Goblet of Fire and wanted to name it after something in the story. So the scientists named it after the fictional school of witchcraft and wizardry, Hogwarts.
In fact, J.K. Rowling is reported to have said or wrote, “I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small (claw?) mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs. … I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s paper describing “my” dinosaur, which I can’t help visualizing as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”
What does this mean for those of us who dearly wish dragons existed, or at least existed at one time in human history? I’m afraid not much. Let’s remember, dinosaurs did not survive the mass extinction.
However, reptiles did. There may be some evidence that some reptiles that survived took to the air and may have laid the basis for what we now refer to as dragons. If you’d like to read that blog post, here’s the link:
Still, I love the connection between this dinosaur name and the dragons created by J.K. Rowling. Definitely a fun touch!
Til the next time!