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The Naming of Dinosaurs ”“ the Greek Connection I

From the Tyrannosaurs Rex to the Triceratops, there are identifying prefixes and such that highlight important characteristics of the prehistoric creatures. The Greek language plays a significant role in the naming of dinosaurs and if you are familiar with basic terms and references, then you have a head start on deciphering the meaning behind many dinosaur names. In this article, you will learn about some of the factors that go into giving a dinosaur a proper name.

The Role of Numbers

Numbers came into play when naming some dinosaurs, especially when the distinguishing features set them apart from other lizards of their day, as seen in Mono (one), Di (two), Tri (three), Tetra (four), and Penta (five). The triceratops had three horns on its head, while the pentaceratops had five horns. Other examples of numbered dinosaur body parts include:

  • Tetrapods ”“ a tetrapod is used to refer to a creature with four legs. The earliest tetrapod specimens emerged about 360 million years ago during the late Devonian period.
  • Tetralophodon ”“ meaning ‘four ridged tooth,’ this creature was a mammal with elephant-like qualities that lived during the Pliocene Epoch, which was about 5 to 2 million years ago. With a massive body, the creature had a long trunk and two large incisors that could reach lengths up to 6 ½ feet long.
  • Tetrapodosaurus ”“ meaning ‘four-footed lizard,’ this dinosaur that lived from the early to middle Cretaceous period (about 120 to 100 million years ago) has left behind track prints in Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada.

Identifying Dinosaur Body Parts

If a specific body part stood out in a particular dinosaur specimen, then a paleontologist may use these features to give it a name. This could range from many fingers, short arms, many horns, or having an oddly shaped head. Notable body parts include the arms (brachio), fingers (dactyl), head (cephalo), teeth (don or dont) and neck (trachelo) of a dinosaur.  Examples of dinosaurs that have been named because of certain body parts include:

The Lophorhothon (whose named translates into “crested snout”) was a duck-billed dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period ”“ about 83 to 73 million years ago. The plant-eater measured about 15 feet long and possessed a deep skull with wide eye holes. However, it was the short snout with a small, pyramid-shaped crest located above the nose that caught the eye of Wann Langston Jr., who named the dinosaur in 1960. The prefix ‘lopho’ means that a specimen had a crest as a physical feature.

The Dermodactylus makes a reference to two different body features ”“ the skin (derma) and finger (dactyl). This pterosaur was a flying reptile that lived during the late Jurassic period (around 153 to 144 million years ago). The creature measured about 3 feet long and was named by Othniel Marsh in 1881.

The Pterosaur referred to a lizard that had wings (ptero). These flying, prehistoric reptiles were not considered dinosaurs, but were of close relation. The naming of this creature was the doing of Johann Jakob Kaup in 1834.