Paleontology highlights problems with my favorite bad newspaper. Also, Check out the glyptodonts!

Not, in fact, a dinosaur: But still interesting.
Not, in fact, a dinosaur: But still interesting.Courtesy Ryan Somma
The Telegraph, the only newspaper brave enough to bring us stories about lost monkeys, unusual looking cats, and the daily trials and tribulations of British pensioners, is one of my favorites. I mean, I’m not going to read about giraffe penis mixups in so called “real” newspapers.

That’s why it's so painful for me to read, in an otherwise intellectually impeccable publication, headlines like this:

Dinosaurs hit rivals like athletes hit balls:
Glyptodont dinosaurs had a finely-adapted tail with a "sweet spot" which clubbed rivals in the same way as tennis or cricket players hit balls, scientists say.

Do you see the trouble here? Oh, glob, it feels like a hot sauce-coated cheese greater rubbing against my eyes. No… it’s like a mace-painted micro-plane on my corneas.

Let’s walk through it. “Hits rivals like athletes hit balls,” I like. We won’t get into why, but I like it. And the “sweet spot” part is good too—it gets right to the meat of the story.

But do you see the problem?!

“Glyptodont dinosaurs”? “Glyptodont dinosaurs”?!

It makes me want to hit someone with a novelty hammer so large that it could actually seriously wound him or her.

I mean, I’d understand if they said something like “dimetrodon dinosaurs,” because, you know, they look a little dinosaury, even if they were synapsids, and lived in the Permian. And it might even be reasonable to say something like “pteranodon dinosaurs,” because they were reptiles too, after all, and at least they were around in the Mesozoic.

But glyptodonts? They were mammals! Argh! And they lived up into the Pleistocene… they were around at the same time as humans! Oh, Telegraph…


Glyptodonts were basically armadillos the size of small cars. They had massive, armored tails, and, apparently, scientists have figured that there was a particular spot on the tail where they would most likely try to center force when swinging the appendage to defend themselves. Like bat- and racquet-using athletes who try to hit balls with a certain area of the bat or racquet to balance power and stress on their wrists and arms, some glyptodont species grew a large spike right at this “sweet spot,” suggesting that it was a practical development, and not just generally for show.

What, though, do you suppose glyptodonts were hitting with that tail? They first evolved in South America, where the top predators were a group of massive flightless birds, nicknamed “Terror birds.” But as big and scary as the terror birds were, glyptodonts were substantially more massive, and the armor alone seems like overkill, let along the club tail. Also, there’s some debate as to whether the terror birds were even carnivorous.

But, then again, organisms don’t evolve traits like that for nothing. So hopefully something was getting clubbed. Like dinosaurs.

PS—Check out the SMM’s dinos and fossils gallery for skeletons of both a glyptodont and a terror bird. See how very un-dinosaur they are.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The term dinosaur is often used to describe many things that are old- like the clunkers that now fill the used car lots.
It's all relative,baby!
Still I found the article enjoyable and educational.

posted on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 5:12pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

With utter horror: Nooooo!

posted on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 7:34pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

Just wait until it's used to reference Brett Favre.

posted on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 10:51am
curious's picture
curious says:

heheh. nice one. i will help you spread that term usage in that aspect. but maybe farve will have nice arms and be able to throw balls as well as athletes and glyptodonts can hit balls.

posted on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 9:47pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Here: This article is a little better, and it never uses the term "dinosaur."

posted on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 9:35am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I think the terror bird you mention in your last few paragraphs is very dinosaurish, since birds are considered by many paleontologists to be coelurosaurs. Birds are often referred to as avian dinosaurs.

posted on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 1:26pm
SyDnEy_RaE's picture
SyDnEy_RaE says:

that think is interesting but

posted on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 4:44pm

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