Trixie Seven: Writer’s commentary

It’s true that I churned out Trixie Seven in a couple of hours, plus the time it took to edit after beta, but it’s still the case that I keep talking about that tiny little fic every opportunity I get. Because I put a lot of my personal knowledge and experience into it, and I’ve had a few conversations here and there.

So in one place:

Some things about Trixie Seven

or: Debi has too much to say about fanfic.

  • There are three things paleontologists get sick of hearing from people about their job: “hypothetically, could we clone dinosaurs from mosquitos?” “Just like Ross from Friends;” and “so you work on dinosaurs, then?” Obviously, the first one would never have been asked of a character in Jurassic Park, and Friends came to TV the year the first JP movie was released. (I know these things.) Obviously, I am a dinosaur paleontologist, so I’m fine with the last question, but my insect/mammal/plesiosaur/fish friends are heartily sick of it.
  • The T-shirt Ellie sleeps in is a real shirt, and I have seen people wearing it at conferences. It probably doesn’t date back to the 1990s, but call it artistic license. The same company also makes T-shirts for archaeologists and paleontologists sick of people getting the disciplines confused.
  • Gizzard stones are small stones swallowed by animals in order to aid digestion of tough plant materials. These stones sit in an organ called the “gastric mill” (or, y’know, “gizzard”) and crush the food together. Both birds and crocodylians have gizzards, which gives a good evolutionary basis for extrapolating that dinosaurs may have. Adn of course, there’s the presence of gastroliths:
  • Gastroliths are stones found in the stomach region of a fossil animal, presumed to represent gizzard stones. Gastroliths have been identified from some sauropodomorphs, and specifically from a specimen of Psittacosaurus, housed in the AMNH in New York. Psittacosaurus is the closest relative of Triceratops to have been recovered with gastroliths.
psittaco

Psittacosaurus at the AMNH – photo from Wikipedia

  • In the book Jurassic Park, the sick dinosaur was a Stegosaurus, not a Triceratops and Ellie tracked the cause of its illness to poisoning by West Indian Lilac. The animal had not been eating the berries directly, but swallowing them accidentally while picking up gizzard stones from the base of the plant. Neither large ceratopsians nor stegosaurs have been found with gastroliths, but stegosaurs are a more likely candidate because:
  • Ceratopsians had awesome teeth! Tough little spoon shaped molar-like (but not molars, ’cause only mammals have molars) doodads arranged in large tight tooth batteries that basically did the job of one large elephant molar. Also,ceratopsians, like many dinosaurs, had flesh covering the side of their mouths to form cheeks. They didn’t need gizzard stones because they chewed their food, is what I’m saying.
  • The issue of cheeks in dinosaurs isn’t uncontroversal, but Ellie’s looking at a living Triceratops with cheeks, so that kind of ends the controversy.

    triceratops

    Triceratops at the HMNS – photo from Wikipedia

  • Triceratops is unusual among ceratopsians, in that its cranial frill was made of solid bone. While many ceratopsians sported these ridiculous things, most are made lighter by the presence of large windows in the frill: “cranial fenestrae.” Check this picture of Torosaurus for an example.
  • In 2010, Scannella and Horner hypothesized that Torosaurus and Triceratops were actually synonymous (the same genus) and that the cranial differences represented animals at different ages, rather than different genera. As far as postcranial anatomy goes, the two genera are very similar, but personally, I think the cranial differences are more than enough to justify a cranial split.
  • As the bony frill was supposed to represent the juvenile stage, it was misrepresented in the media as “Triceratops is no longer a dinosaur!” which would be inaccurate, as Triceratops is the older name and therefore it would be Torosaurus that would no longer be a valid genus. When Ellie says “this isn’t a Triceratops,” she means that she thinks Trixie has been misidentified, not that the taxon is invalid.
  • Ornithischians are more objectively more interesting than saurischians. Fact.
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