Sunday, January 8, 2017

Crystal Ball for 2017

Making predictions about paleontology is kind of awkward, at least if your predictions are based on what is published. Because there's usually five to ten years between a discovery and its publication, there's often a sense of what is out there, just not when it will appear. After all, we've got abstracts, press releases, photos on social media, etc... But what the hey? We're just having fun (hopefully). Lots of links to names are included in case you're mostly here for the Ordovician and aren't familiar with the lingo. Below are my predictions for dinosaur paleontology in the year 2017, after the photo of actual dinosaurs taken at much expense and personal risk via a secret and unfortunately now-lost technology.

Actual photo from the late Campanian of Canada. Things were surprisingly geometric then. Note that dinosaurs in their natural environment kind of hang around as if they are on coffee break, instead of constantly being on murderous rampages.

I'm going to start with a few predictions that seem pretty safe, organized by groups and based on what seems to happen most years.

Basal dinosaurs and non-dinosaurian cousins:
What I'd like to see: an Early Jurassic near-dinosaur or a Middle Triassic true dinosaur.
What I predict: one new near-dinosaur and one new critter that's right around the theropodsauropodomorph split.

Non-coelurosaurian theropods:
What I'd like to see: some friends for Chilesaurus (crossing my fingers for a hitherto-unsuspected group of herbivorous Jurassic theropods!).
What I predict: a moderately sized abelisaur, maybe? A couple of paleobiological studies involving Allosaurus (the theropod you get when you can't get Tyrannosaurus).

What I'd like to see: Ooh! Let's go wild and say a herbivorous dromaeosaurid!
What I predict: 1) a (non-herbivorous) Yixian dromaeosaurid; 2) a new YANO; 3) some new kind of dromaeosaur/troodont/Archaeopteryx-type thing, probably from the Tiaojishan Formation; 4) a new North American tyrannosaur; 5) bonus points for a therizinosaur somewhere besides Asia or North America.

What I'd like to see: a description of the Nova Scotia form.
What I predict: maybe one new taxon, plus more on the paleobiology of the usual suspects (Massospondylus and Plateosaurus).

What I'd like to see: 1) complete revisions of Titanosauria and the mamenchisaur/omeisaur scrum; 2) a redescription of Dystrophaeus.
What I predict: three or four new titanosaurs, each probably based on a few vertebrae from Upper Cretaceous rocks of Argentina.

Thyreophora (armored dinosaurs):
What I'd like to see: specimen-level redescriptions of Stegosaurus, Edmontonia, and Panoplosaurus.
What I predict: maybe a new Asian ankylosaurid, and/or a North American nodosaurid? In other words, about the same as last year.

Marginocephalia (boneheads and horned dinosaurs):
What I'd like to see: aesthetically speaking, a new centrosaurine with a big nasal horn and short brow horns, instead of the other way around (we haven't had one since Spinops).
What I predict: 1) someone will name a new ceratopsid, and the collective response will be eye-rolling at the idea that another ceratopsid is needed; 2) another batch of basal ceratopsians; 3) potentially a small-scale reheating of the slow-motion dueling pachycephalosaur taxonomies of the early 2000s, what with Foraminacephale.

What I'd like to see: 1) useful postcranial (other than the skull) synapomorphies (defining anatomical characteristics) for ornithopods; 2) a new lambeosaurine with a complete crest; 3) a hypsil- or dryosaur-grade ornithopod from the Upper Cretaceous of Madagascar (we've got them in South America, Australia, and Antarctica, after all).
What I predict: at least two new forms in that suddenly crowded space between Camptosaurus and duckbills.

Finally, a few bolder predictions:

1) A new giant sauropod. We haven't had one of those for a while;

2) There will be something significant published on tracks, such as a major new tracksite. Bonus points for something with wild paleobiological implications, like a stampede of large dinosaurs or tracks of a theropod taking down prey;

3) A nation not currently represented will get its first named non-avian dinosaur. Where? For full credit, I'm going to say one of the countries with land in the former Achaemenid Empire (the Persian empire conquered by Alexander the Great), an area that is pretty much empty of named dinosaurs except for Egypt;

4) Something unexpected will come out of a heavily studied formation. It'd be easy to say the Yixian here, but I think I'll go for difficulty. Bonus points for a Morrison ornithomimosaur or an actual Chinle ornithischian (not one of those things based on teeth that turns out to have been a rebellious croc relative or some such). Super bonus points for a Morrison therizinosaur. Partial credit for just a press release or abstract or some such that isn't a full publication;

5) Something from Coming Attractions: Last year I got the spirit right but not the letter. I will predict that at least one more possibility will come off the board this year. The high-spined Cedar Mountain iguanodont and the "Saints and Sinners" theropod are my picks for 2017.


  1. Interesting choices from the "coming attractions"; Lori's almost confirmed for this year I think as well.

    1. I thought Lori might be kind of cheating, plus I pitched it last year. The word was that the Archbishop was supposed to come out last year, too, but it just goes to show you never can tell.