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Jack’s

A Pterano-what? Science Class Boo-Boo

Posted on: 8:46 pm, August 2, 2013, by

Lately, our son Walt has really been interested in the show “Dinosaur Train” on PBS. Now, I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in a lot of different sciences, but I’ll admit I don’t read the latest paleontology journals. I learned most of what I know about dinosaurs in Second Grade at Holly Pond, and all of that information in my head (what I can remember of it) came from a textbook like similar one:

Science Horizons : Grade 2 Silver Burdett & Ginn (1987, Hardcover)

Science Horizons : Grade 2 Silver Burdett & Ginn (1987, Hardcover)

You would think things like dinosaurs and planets wouldn’t change much over the years; however, Pluto is no longer considered to be a “planet” (I don’t know how we’ll remember the existing ones now without “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pancakes”), and a “pterodactyl” is no longer a creature. Period.

“Dinosaur Train” is about the Pteranodon Family and their adventures through the different periods of dinosaur existence. This is the theme song; you gotta listen to this…it’s stuck in my head most days.

So back to that thing about pterodactyls not being “creatures:” you’ll notice in the theme song that these flying “dinosaurs” (as I thought they were from 2nd Grade science) are referred to as “pteranodons.” That made me wonder what’s the difference between a pteranodon and a pterodactyl!

The answer, according to About.com is this:

1. There’s no such creature as a “pterodactyl.”

It’s unclear at what point “pterodactyl” became a synonym for pterosaurs in general, and Pterodactylus and Pteranodon in particular, but the fact remains that this is the word most people use. Working paleontologists never refer to “pterodactyls,” preferring to focus on individual pterosaur genera.

I can’t prove it since I don’t have the book, but I’m almost certain that Science book I mentioned earlier called them “pterodactyls.” If I’m wrong, I apologize to the good people who wrote it.

Ok, so it’s not weather related, but there’s something scientific to be learned here: you don’t always know what you’re talking about even if what you’re talking about is in a textbook. I’d imagine if I said “pterodactyl” to one of the paleontologists at Birmingham’s McWane Science Center that he would feel just like I do when I hear terms like “heat lightning.” (Heat lightning isn’t real; you might as well call it “pterodactyl lightning.”)

-Jason
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