Permanent URL: https://mezzacotta.net/dinosaur/?comic=301
Strip by: David Morgan-Mar
M-Gig: Tyrannosaurus rex was named in 1905 by Henry Fairfield Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History.
M-Gig: Edward Drinker Cope found the first fossils in 1892, and he named the species Manospondylus gigas. TRUE!
Utahraptor: Hey, M-Gig!
Utahraptor: So the unbreakable rules of priority are why you aren't called "T-Rex"?
M-Gig: What a stupid name that'd be!
M-Gig: Phew! Dodged a bullet there!!
The author writes:
This is all true. Well, mostly.
Edward Drinker Cope really did find fossils in 1892, which he named Manospondylus gigas. Henry Fairfield Osborn really did name some fossils Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905.
In June 2000, the Black Hills Institute located the type locality of M. gigas in South Dakota and unearthed more tyrannosaur bones there. These were judged to represent further remains of the same individual, and to be identical to those of Tyrannosaurus rex. According to the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the system that governs the scientific naming of animals, Manospondylus gigas should therefore have priority over Tyrannosaurus rex, because it was named first.
In other words, according to all the rules of scientific species naming - the same rules which took Brontosaurus away from us for so long - Tyrannosaurus rex had to be renamed to Manospondylus gigas.
However, in that same year, the ICZN was revised to essentially grandfather in species names that everybody had been using for ages, over more obscure names that nobody ever used. Specifically, the rules now state that if a certain number of scientific papers used the newer name before it was established that the older name had priority, then the newer name could carry on.
Phew! Can you imagine the outrage if the ICZN had announced in 2000 that Tyrannosaurus rex was no longer a valid name, and we all had to use Manospondylus gigas from now on? Pluto being a dwarf planet would have been nothing - nothing - in comparison.