Triceratops has been dead for 65 million years, but debates about the species are as lively as ever. Recent research claims that Triceratops isn't its own distinct species but rather the adolescent version of Torosaurus. But Andrew Farke, of the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, Calif., has likely skewered that theory.
In July 2010, John Scannella and Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., reported on their findings about the relationship between the Triceratops and the Torosaurus—and the initial outcry led to a re-examination of the evidence. It was then that Scannella and Horner looked at the bones of Nedoceratops hatcheri, a dinosaur unearthed 120 years ago. They concluded that Nedoceratops is an intermediate stage between Triceratops and Torosaurus.
And that's where Farke came to the rescue of Triceratops fans everywhere. He wrote a paper in PLoS ONE debunking the debunkers.
Farke concludes Nedoceratops hatcheri is far too different to be a member of the same species as the other two: It lacks the distinctive nose horn, it has relatively small holes in its frill (its ornamental bone), and the horn core on its skull is almost vertical.
Synonymy of the three genera as ontogenetic stages of a single taxon would require cranial changes otherwise unknown in ceratopsids, including additions of ossifications to the frill and repeated alternation of bone surface texture between juvenile and adult morphotypes.
In English, that means "Triceratops, Torosaurus and likely Nedoceratops are all distinct taxa."
There's a reason for all of this dinosaur classification chaos. Some dinosaur juveniles develop ornamentation as they mature, which makes them look very dissimilar to the adult versions of the species, which is why paleontologists admit it's easy to confuse species. And when it comes to related species, chances are we will remain confused ... until we can build our own version of Jurassic Park.