In 2003, amateur paleontologists in South Dakota discovered fossils which they believed to be from a Pachycephalosaurus. The fossils were sent to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ Paleo Prep Lab for preparation. It was discovered during this process that the bones were not from a dinosaur we already knew about, so our paleontologists got to name the new dinosaur species.
Because most people don’t spend as much time staring at dinosaur fossils as Victor Porter (pictured) and the rest of our paleontology team, museum guests who saw the new specimen said that it looked like a dragon or a crocodile—or even an alien.
Victor took all this into consideration. He named the small-toothed, herbivorous dinosaur Dracorex after the Latin words for “dragon king.” Why? Because it sounds really cool!
Dracorex is in good company, too. Of the over 1,000 named dinosaur species, several others have been named after creatures from myths and folklore.
- Dilong and Guanlong, two Chinese dinosaur species, are both named after the mythical “long,” or Chinese dragon. In fact, since “di” means “king” in Chinese, Dilong is also a “dragon king!”
- Siats is named after a man-eating giant in Ute legend.
- Seitaad gets its name from a mythological Navajo monster that buried its victims under the sand.
- Jobaria is named after the Jobar, a gigantic mythical beast from Touareg legend.
- Tarascosaurus is named after the Tarasque, a lion-dragon monster in medieval French folklore.
- Harpymimus and Garudimimus are named after Harpies and the Garuda bird.
- Anzu is named after a lion-headed bird from Mesopotamian mythology.
- The prehistoric flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus is named for the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl who had the combined features of a snake and an eagle.
Dinosaurs were real wild animals that once walked the earth, but are now extinct. Everything we know about these creatures comes from our discoveries of fossilized evidence of their bones, footprints, dung, and in extremely rare cases, mummified soft tissue (blatant plug for Leonardo).
Dragons are magical creatures from fun stories. Sometimes, dinosaur fossils or even living creatures remind us of dragons. But the evidence tells us that dragons only exist in those stories.
Fortunately, as long as we have imaginations and the ability to tell stories, dragons will never go extinct.
Special thanks to Thomas Holtz for his encyclopedic assistance during the writing of this blog post!