Monday, July 7, 2008

I <3 Sloths...

While at the Peabody museum in New Haven, CT (you guessed it, Jerry!), J and I came across Nothrotherium shastense, a ground sloth. The Yale specimen is really impressive - it's a complete skeleton held together by ligaments and tendons and it even has some patches of hair. The impressive part? It's 11,000 years old! The sloth apparently fell to its death over 100 feet into a pit next to Aden Crater in New Mexico. It was found in 1928, along with a dung ball containing bits of wood. When the skeleton was first found and prepared, it was treated with carbon-containing materials, so dating methods were, right off, considered to be flawed. However, the dung ball was untreated and was used as a reference. There was a 1,000 year difference between the calculated ages of the dung ball and skeleton. According to the display at the museum, the soft parts of the sloth would have been preserved as well, had it not been for rats. Much of the specimen showed rat-bite damage.



I got really excited when I saw the skeleton because I thought it was another organism bearing my last name, like Quetzecoatlus northropi. I just realized, though, as I was posting this, that "Nothrotherium" is one "r" off. Oh well. Anyone know the etymology of the name "Nothrotherium"?

5 comments:

Jerry D. Harris said...

Anyone know the etymology of the name "Nothrotherium"?

Nothros = sloth; therios = beast. It's the dreaded sloth beast!

Zach said...

Aw, Jerry beat me to it! My frame of reference was Nothronychus, an American therizinosaur, whose name means "sloth claw."

That's an amazing specimen, though! Almost as cool as that glyptodont skull that Darren posted a few weeks (months?) ago at Tet Zoo, looking like the animal had died YESTERDAY.

Jerry D. Harris said...

Quoth Zach:

Aw, Jerry beat me to it! My frame of reference was Nothronychus, an American therizinosaur, whose name means "sloth claw."

Well, I must plead special circumstances...it was just a few months ago that I got to help name Suzhousaurus megatherioides, and in concoting the name, we went through several variants of "sloth-like." So I got to know sloth roots pretty well... I guess I lied a bit about nothros meaning "sloth"; really it means "sluggish," but it's often associated with sloths, so...

Anyone interested in etymology would be well-advised to snag a copy of:

Brown, R.W. 1956. Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 882 pp.

Basically, it's a dictionary in which you can look up both Greek and Latin roots to see what they mean, as well as English words to see what Greek and Latin (and Old English) roots can be applied to give that meaning. Invaluable! Paper copies aren't terribly hard to get (it was reprinted several times, most recently 1991 that I know of, and various used versions are available for not too much money at AbeBooks); there's a clunky on-line version, too, if you're desperate.

Zach said...

Yeah, I'm gonna need that for all the dragon/wyvern/extended Permian beasties I dream up! Thanks for the heads-up, Jerry!

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