STEGOSAURUS PLATES

With Stegosaurus at Univ. Wyoming Musuem

A while back I was chatting with a fellow writer of dinosaur tales. I asked if he worried that advances in paleontology would render some of the details in his stories obsolete. He said certain aspects of his major work had become out of date even before publication.

Ugh! How does a writer deal with this? For some time, I consoled myself with the fact that I loved as much as ever the classic dinosaur stories I’d grown up reading. So what if they did have a “brontosaurus” or two instead of an “apatosaurus?” And then, just this year, it looks as though the nomenclature may be swinging back in favor of “brontosaurus.”

Now, another surprising thing has happened, something that is the very opposite of what I had feared. A recent article in the journal PLOS One suggests that differences in the big bony plates running along the spine of one species of stegosaurus (Stegosaurus mjosi) may be the product of sexual dimorphism. In other words, males and females had differently shaped dermal plates. One sex possessed wide, oval plates 45% larger in surface area than the tall, narrow plates of the other sex. Intermediate shapes were not found. Given that a number of individuals were found together, the variation cannot be ascribed to different species. Nor is it due to changes as the creatures grew from infants to adulthood. Nor do the plates come from different positions on the back of one individual.

I’m excited by this development because my story, “Dino Mate,” published in the December 2014 issue of Analog contains speculation about the spikes on the kentrosaurus, which is a related dinosaur found in East Africa instead of Western North America. Without spoiling the story, I can say that I’m gratified to read of new scientific discoveries, which provide rich fodder for science fiction writers like me.

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