As one of the first dinosaurs to be discovered, the Stegosaurus became the poster child for wacky dinosaur theories. So many silly ideas have been put forth about this dinosaur that it is difficult to uncover what is the actual animal. For me, the Stegosaurus is the totem animal for scientific inquiry. Although many wacky theories are proposed, the paleontologists soldier on never satisfied until they uncover the truth.
This iconic dinosaur was found in 1876 in Colorado by M.P. Felch. However, Othniel Charles Marsh, the famous dinosaur hunter, named the animal in 1877. He called this dinosaur “Stegosaurus” which means “roof lizard”.
One thing that Marsh noticed was the famous plates of the Stegosaurus. He reasoned that these plates overlapped on the dinosaur’s back. Resembling a shingled beast, the Stegosaurus had to be a giant turtle. Thus began the great Stegosaurus plate debate. What were these plates for? How were they placed on the dinosaur? Even today, paleontologists debate the reason for these plates.
After deciding that the plates were not “roof shingles”, various naturalists then placed them down the dinosaur’s back in a single row. Later, scientists decided that the plates went down in two rows next to each other. However, after a fossil find of a nearly complete skeleton, paleontologists realized that these plates alternated down the Stegosaurus’ back in two rows.
What were the plates used for? First everyone thought that the plates deterred dinosaurs from jumping onto the animal’s back. However the major fallacy of this theory was that the plates were too delicate to withstand such an attack. Moreover, the Stegosaurus was vulnerable to attack from the sides.
Then blood vessels were discovered running through the plates. After that, new theories came to the fore. These plates could be infused with blood to frighten off attackers. They could be used in mating – the brightest male won the attentions of the females. The plates could tell the individual dinosaurs apart much like a zebra’s stripes.
The prevailing theory is that the plates were temperature controls. Like the sail on the Dimetrodon’s back, these plates would warm up or cool down the Stegosaurus. However, no one really knows what the plates are for. Personally, I think that the plates exist to baffle scientists, and to prod them to keep on asking questions.