Is Seismosaurus's tail kink a feature of that genus, or simply damage that afflicted the only known specimen?

27th August 2002

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In Seismosaurus, the Earth Shaker, Gillette claims that the kink in the Seismosaurus tail is a distinctive characteristic of the genus. How can a claim like this be made of an animal for which we only have one specimen? Isn't is just as likely to be the result of an injury the specimen suffered in life or damage occurring after death?


There's no very good answer to this question.

In general, discoverers of new genera are keen to identify diagnostic features (such as Seismosaurus's tail kink) because these features validate the decision to erect a new genus rather than merely a new species of an existing genus.

That's not to say that such features are never valid - they may well be, even when, as in this case, they are based on a single specimen. Bones typically show damage - scar tissue and suchlike - when injured in life; in the absence of such evidence, the Seismosaurus tail kink may well be normal for this genus.

It would certainly help if, in the Seismosaurus book, Gillette devoted some space to explaining and justifying his assertion, rather than baldly stating his conclusion.

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