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Anatosaurus and the Name Game

One of the most frequently asked questions during Saurian’s development and Kickstarter campaign relates to Hell Creek’s resident “duck-billed” dinosaur (hadrosaurid), namely ‘where is it?’. This is a fair question; as the ever quotable RJ Palmer has noted, it’s absence is “like having the farm without the cow”. It might seem strange that we kept this animal a secret for so long, but here’s why:

The Dinosaur Mummy

Unlike the vast majority of fossil species, we actually know a lot about the Hell Creek hadrosaur. It is known from a treasure trove of fossils, second only to Triceratops in the number of specimens known from the formation. The animal is well represented, from young juveniles to enormous, long-snouted adults. Bonebeds containing remains of up to 20,000 individuals are known from Wyoming and South Dakota. Detailed study of the dinosaur’s jaws and teeth reveal it was supremely adapted for chewing, having some of the most complex teeth and jaw mechanics of any known animal. We know more about the locomotion, diet, habitat preference, pathologies and predatory interactions of this dinosaur than perhaps any other.
Much of our detailed understanding of its appearance, however, comes from an incredibly complete specimen nicknamed “Dakota”. The animal was preserved with the skeleton wrapped in mineralized soft tissue, including muscle and skin, giving us a good idea on the external appearance of this dinosaur. This type of fossil is often called a “mummy”, in reference to its overall similarity to the ancient Egyptian mummies. Even more incredible is that this is not the only mummy known from this taxa; there are at least two more, one housed in the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany and another at the American Museum of Natural History. We were extremely lucky to have one of our former developers examine the latter specimen in person, and from his observations we were able to match the skin of our model almost exactly to what is actually preserved. Taken together, there is so much data available for Anatosaurus that there is very little ‘wiggle room’ in depicting its appearance.

A detailed guide to the scale pattern of the AMNH specimen.

Lets Play the Name Game

Even after revealing that this animal will indeed be featured in Saurian, it remains one of the most frequently mentioned animals within our community, but for a different reason: its name. We refer to this animal as Anatosaurus. This has of course, brought out near constant cries of “why not Edmontosaurus“, “isn’t that Edmontosaurus?”, “You know that Anatosaurus is a synonym of Edmontosaurus, right?”

While its cute when people think they know something we don’t, it is much more complicated that this. The first thing that needs to be addressed is that a genus name is almost completely arbitrary. A genus (the first part of an animal’s name, the Tyrannosaurus in Tyrannosaurus rex or the Canis in Canis lupus) is just a name for a group of animals (clade) that share a close common ancestor. Most clades are given a definition (for example the clade Dinosauria is anything descended from the common ancestor of Passer and Triceratops) but the “genus” level usually is not which means how large a group of animals the group covers is almost entirely up for debate. The only true rule that exists is that the oldest name for that animal takes priority. As Saurian deals with genera, we obviously have to make a call the names that appear in our game. What mattered most to us was that whatever we did, we were internally consistent, so we decided to lay down our own set of rules. The most prominent of these rules was that if an animal was separated from its closest relative by over a million years then this is grounds for being given its own genus. The Hell Creek hadrosaurid fits this rule as it appears on the scene 2 million years after the last occurrence of its next closest relative, Edmontosaurus regalis. For this same reason, you will see the names Pectinodon, Denversaurus and Acheroraptor in our game as opposed to Troodon, Panoplosaurus/Edmontonia and Velociraptor, respectively. On the reverse front, if we had included the controversial taxon Torosaurus latus in the game as its own species, it would have been as Triceratops latus.

One true rule for genus names that must be followed (with some exceptions) is that the oldest known possible name for the animal takes all priority. This stops new names being given to the same taxa continuously. With this in mind, some would argue that Thespesius occidentalis is the proper name for the Hell Creek hadrosaurid, but we agree with Lull & Wright (and Lambe before them) regarding the material this name is based on as inadequate for proper classification and therefore a dubious name (scientifically: a nomen dubium based on non-diagnostic material, even if ‘western wondrous one’ is a pretty cool moniker). This leaves Anatosaurus as the oldest available name that can be confidently assigned to this animal, and therefore the correct one in our scheme.

Not the Edmonton Saurian

Aside from naming convention, Anatosaurus actually differs morphologically from Edmontosaurus in a number of ways. The most notable skeletal difference comes in the skull. Anatosaurus has a much longer and more delicate skull throughout it’s life series, as can be seen in the image below:

Skull growth comparison between Edmontosaurus (A) and Anatosaurus (B).

 

Until recently, skulls with the very long, low and especially duck-like beaks were classified under a third name, Anatotitan copei, but a 2011 study found that they are almost certainly just large adult Anatosaurus. Other differences are more recently discovered and relate to the soft tissue details discussed above. Recently, a mummified partial skeleton of Edmontosaurus was discovered revealing some interesting soft tissue details. These included a cock’s-comb-like crest on the back of the skull, and a series of large, raised, scaly bumps covering the neck of the animal. Neither of these features are present in the 3 mummified specimens of Anatosaurus. Additionally, the segmented dorsal ridge we know ran down the back of Anatosaurus is not present in this specimen of Edmontosaurus.

Internal draft of Saurian’s Anatosaurus concept by Alex Lewko, Chris Masna, RJ Palmer and Jake Baardse.

 

We Don’t Need no Stinkin’ Sauropods

By now many of you have also probably heard rumors that Anatosaurus was HUGE. We are here to report that those rumors are true, based off of two specimens housed at the Museum of the Rockies (MOR 1609 and MOR 1142) that indicate animals around 15m from nose to tail, and likely massing over 10 tons.

MOR 1142 ("X-rex" as it was originally thought to be from a tyrannosaur) on display. Fossil measures 7.6m total length. Photo courtesy Museum of the Rockies Twitter page.

MOR 1142 (“X-rex” as it was originally thought to be from a tyrannosaur) on display. Fossil measures 7.6m total length. Photo courtesy Museum of the Rockies Twitter page.

Maximum adult size of Anatosaurus based on Super Adult specimens from the Museum of the Rockies.

Maximum adult size of Anatosaurus based on Super Adult specimens from the Museum of the Rockies.

Its important to note, however, that very few individuals reached these immense dimensions. The vast majority of Anatosaurus fossils found in the Hell Creek formation come from animals measuring around 8.5m in length. When the bones of these individuals were analyzed, they were found to have a texture consistent with rapid, active growth, and despite their relatively large size, were only about half grown. A recent study on the related hadrosaur Maiasaura found that 90% of hatchlings died before reaching one year of age, sexual maturity was reached at 3 years of age and about 1/3rd average adult size, and skeletal growth essentially ceased by age 8.
Anatosaurus likely shared a similar ‘live fast, grow fast, breed fast, die young’ lifestyle, and the few giants we have are lucky survivors.

Anatosaurus wip 10

 

44 Comments
  • Alexander Horton on September 7, 2016

    Can you please put Quetzalcoatlus, Leptoceratops, and Thescelosaurus in the game?

    • Joshua West Lowrie on October 28, 2016

      They already have XD

      • JJ Giesey on March 11, 2017

        Lepto isn’t going to be in game, lepto was in hell creek yes, but not bone butte(which is what saurian’s area is based off of) specifically

  • Lord Newman on August 18, 2016

    Just have had a little read through Saurian, and loving the idea already. Just to ask, will there be any playable Mammalian species, or at least AI running around? Such as the Didelphodon and the Meniscoessus. I can understand they may be too small to really play and focus on at all. Heh.

    • Tomozaurus on August 18, 2016

      AI? Yes. Playable? No, they’re way, way, way too small.

  • Thiago Chagas on July 23, 2016

    “While its cute when people think they know something we don’t” what? Really, this is definitely the worst part of this article (and I hope this is the only bad one). You want to pay attention about every single aspect aboutthe Hell Creek (“from the tallest leaf to the tallest leaf”), so you may miss something about some aspects. Example: while I think that T. rex had feathers (even during adulthood), I doubt your explanation in T. rex’s infographic would easily convince someone.

    Stop acting like if you knew every damn thing.

    • Samiret123 on August 7, 2016

      They have spent years upon years researching the littlest details about the Hell Creek formation, so a lot of what people are saying are most likely things that have crossed their minds in the past. That statement was just a little nod and is to be taken lightly and not as greatly as you have taken it.

    • nonavian on August 12, 2016

      Nobody knows every damn thing, I hope you know. But these people aren’t just some hardcore JP fans off the Internet, they are a team of people who’ve taken the time to educate themselves and others about dinosaurs, using the information that we (people in general) have collected over time and changed to what is most logical and likely. So don’t get flustered, because although they don’t know everything, they sure know a lot more than most of us here on the website.

  • NathB$ on July 20, 2016

    Anyone who saw game footage probably see that the triceratops and Dakotaraptor can swim, but does anyone knows if the T-Rex will be able to swim?

    • Melvin van Zantvliet on August 29, 2016

      I don’t think it will need to, they may be able to just walk over the bottom of the river/lake, those teeny arms would make it quite difficult to swim.

      • Asia on September 1, 2016

        emu has t. rex like wings and it can swim quite well. it probably wont need to swim very often.. but it can

  • JohnBloom on July 2, 2016

    Amazing- i only just started following this game but i have a feeling i’m going to learn a lot from just following it XD

    Can’t wait to see more about this game and the dinosaurs that will be in it! 😀

  • Dimetrodork on June 23, 2016

    Just curious, the name I’ve always heard is “Anatotitan”. Is that one of those cases where they gave a whole new name to what was actually just a larger specimen or is it its own seperate genus?

    • hi on August 1, 2016

      Yes it was. I looked it up and it was actually a different name for an annatosaurus.

  • Michael Brett-Surman on June 23, 2016

    The name “Anatosaurus” is no longer available under ICZN rules. If the type species of a genus is sunk into another genus (“Anatosaurus” annectens into Edmontosaurus regalis) then the generic name cannot be used for a subsequently named species. That is why Don Baird, Jack Horner and myself used Anatotitan for the species copei.

    • Hunter1324 on July 4, 2016

      The return of the genus Brontosaurus seems to be a pretty big hole on that nomenclature condition.

  • Monolophosaurus on June 18, 2016

    Woah… slow your role there. One million years is not anywhere near enough time to warrant a separate genus. Genus Canis has been around for nine million years, Panthera for six million years, Crocuta for three and a half million years, Balaenoptera for about twelve million years, Ursus for five million years, etc. I could continue listing extant genera for several paragraphs that have existed longer than one million years. Homeothermic animals can last a lot longer than one million years, and cold-blooded, uh… “heterothermic” animals can last a LOT longer than that, ex. genus Alligator been around for over thirty-five million years. Time is not a good indicator of a separate genus… well, it isn’t an indicator AT ALL of a separate genus. The only way that we can be certain about genera (or at least as certain as one can be on a subject like this), is genetics, which obviously isn’t possible so… we do have comparative anatomy. The anatomy of Anatosaurus makes me agree with you that it is a separate genus. But Torosaurus and Triceratops as two species of one genus? Is there any paleontologist that agrees with this? I mean yeah Jack Horner thinks that they are adult and subadult, but are there any people who think they are two species of one genus? I’m just asking because your taxonomic decisions here are a bit strange in my view.

    • Dunkleosteus on August 16, 2016

      Exactly, take Coelacanths for example; they have been around for more than 360 million years and we still call them Coelacanths (mind that there are different scientific names.) Besides we all know you guys are busting your butts to make the most scientifically accurate dinosaur game to ever ” roam the earth” and it’s already unbeatable. But you guys are getting way to deep into it now, you have to remember that this is a game not a documentary, these names you are casting aside are the names of magnificent beasts that we recognized and related to as children. So all I want you guys to know is that this is the first sign that you are going to fail at letting people relate to your dinosaurs when we won’t be able to relate to all of our dinosaurs.

      • Agate on August 21, 2016

        One million years is actually a standard scientific estimate, in evolutionary study. While that number is likely a huge lowball for most situations, it is, nonetheless, a scientifically accepted number within the scientific community.
        While I am not familiar with the latest research, if dinosaurs did indeed grow to these massive proportions in sch a rapid manner, their life pans would be very short, allowing for rapid generational time, and thus more rapid evolution.
        The genus homo has only been around for 1.9 million years, yet there have been eight widely accepted species (with eight more potential species, whose classification is dubious.

  • SolarPenguin on June 18, 2016

    Will torosaurus and triceratops be individual species in the game?

  • Herman Diaz on June 17, 2016

    Have the 15 m specimens been described? If so, where? Just wondering.

    • Juan Yu See on June 21, 2016

      Here it is: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016574

      “Two specimens of Edmontosaurus are in the “XL” size range: “Becky’s Giant” (MOR 1609) is a maxilla with a tooth-row length of 570 mm and the tail of “X-rex” (MOR 1142) is 7.5 meters in length from the posterior end of the sacrum. Both these specimens are indicative of greater size ranges then previously attributed to Edmontosaurus.”

  • Francis A Vukelich on June 17, 2016

    I think it’s cute when people think they know more about my profession than I as well! I really enjoy your posts here, there’s so much to duscover😃

  • Aven on June 16, 2016

    Either that rex is too small, or the hadrosaur too big… the size difference seems to be about 9 meters. That would make for a 20 meters anatosaurus…

    • Twi-sempai on June 16, 2016

      What size of t-rex are you basing this upon? If you go by a man of about 2m in height, this anatosaurus seems to be around 15-16m.

    • Hunter1324 on June 17, 2016

      Actually not as much as you would think. First the Tyarannosaurus rex silhoutte seems to be based on Stan which is roughly 11 meters long. Second is that MOR 1142 actually ends up closer to 18 meters when compared to other individuales. The figures in an unlarged picture are roughly 11 and 18 cm each while Bob is around 1.7/1.8 cm tall.

    • Thiago Chagas on July 23, 2016

      For me it appears to have almost 30

      • Thiago Chagas on July 23, 2016

        25*

  • Jake Kale on June 16, 2016

    On a purely personal level, it’s nice to see Anatosaurus make a “comeback” as it were, like Brontosaurus before it. “Duck lizard” is just such a fitting name.

    I’m now looking forward to seeing which invalid genus is resurrected next. You can do it, Trachodon, I believe in you!

  • Falcolf on June 16, 2016

    Wow, that thing is bloody huge, I had no idea that sauropods came that big!

    • Falcolf on June 16, 2016

      Forgive me, hadrosaurs, not sauropods – it’s late and my brain had a little misstep!

  • Vishal Boompally on June 15, 2016

    I read in a paleontology paper that the 15 meter superadults are actually average size and that they got much larger.

  • Montanaspinus on June 15, 2016

    Does the model have claws on its “hands”? People like Scott Hartman have argued, based on the mummies, that hadrosaurs’ manus didn’t have claws, and actually looked like a mitten.

    • Twi-sempai on June 16, 2016

      It looks as if the model presented here does have some small toenails on the front feet. Those front feet are rather small, too! They do kind of look like mittens, hehe.

  • Gabriel Lazzari on June 15, 2016

    I wish I could see a Parasaurolophus in the game. It’s my favorite dinosaur *-*

    • Christian Halliwell on June 15, 2016

      You’ll get Parasaurolophus if they decide to do a game in the Dinosaur Park Formation ;).

      • evenape on June 15, 2016

        Something referred to the genus Parasaurolophus is known from Hell Creek, actually… Might be a new lambeosaurine

        • KaijuGroupie on June 16, 2016

          Said “lambeosaurine” is actually only known from a partial pelvis, so it’s kind of hard to confirm either way at this point.

  • Hunter1324 on June 15, 2016

    Yes!

    Finally a blog entry on Hell Creek’s largest Dinosaur.

    I guess you already have heared about the recently described nestling sized Anatosaurus?

    https://cansvp.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/csvp-2016-abstract-book-compressed.pdf

    Page 77

    The fact we have material for the hatchling and further information on Anatosaurus/Edmontosaurus super adult morph has swayed my future vote on it’s favor.

  • eduardo quero o jogo gratis! on June 15, 2016

    <33333333333333333333333333333

  • Ecfor on June 15, 2016

    Anatosaurus is my favourite so far <3

  • NathB$ on June 15, 2016

    Wow! I didn’t know Anatosaurus was that big! I also didn’t know you were going to put pectinodon in the game and that acheroraptor is a Vélociraptor. This game learned me a lot of things!

    • Mickey Mortimer on June 22, 2016

      That’s because Acheroraptor isn’t a Velociraptor. The only published analysis to include the former found it to be sister to a clade consisting of Velociraptor, Adasaurus and Tsaagan (including Linheraptor in their matrix). So unless these are ALL Velociraptor, or a new analysis is performed, Acheroraptor isn’t Velociraptor either. Have fun making Adasaurus mongoliensis a species of Velociraptor, whose type species is V. mongoliensis. 😉

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