Saturday, March 21, 2009

Word of the Day - Holotype

holotype: (n) the original specimen which is used to describe a new species
I was visiting my dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum last week, and I ran across this great word. The museum has the original skeletons that defined the species Diplodocus carnageii, as well as the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Their particular T-Rex was discovered in 1902 by Barnum Brown in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, and it toured the country, ending up at the Carnegie in the 1950's. Fossil hunting was a messy, wild-west business back in the day, full of shady dealers, each spinning out their own argument for why this skeleton was better than another. By chance (and perhaps more human intervention than we care to admit), a new species was created on those dry Montana plans.

We forget that man names the animals. That "species" is just one more concept slapped on to the world in order to make sense of it. We love to label and taxonomize; and sometimes we come up with descriptions like "Tyrant Lizard King" that seem to stick. Also, it's amazing to think that there is one T-Rex (who lives in Pittsburgh), just like there still is one Dodo (who lives in London).