Thought for decades to be a misidentified Apatosaurus, scientists now say Brontosaurus might have actually been its own type of dinosaur all along.
Illustration by Davide Bonadonna
Published May 7, 2015
Step aside, Apatosaurus—because Brontosaurus is stomping back into the spotlight.
Named Brontosaurus in 1879, the dinosaur was at first considered so unique that scientists thought it deserved to be classified in a group of its own. Later in 1903 scientists realized Brontosaurus looked a lot like members of the Apatosaurus dino group. Reclassified as an Apatosaurus, the dinosaur dropped its original name.
But not everyone agreed that Brontosaurus—which means "thunder lizard" in Greek—was really an Apatosaurus. The name Brontosaurus lived on for decades in books and movies, until researchers in the 1970s showed that Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus had very similar skulls. The finding led even more people to stop using the title of Brontosaurus, practically dooming the name to extinction.
Recently researchers published a study on diplodocids (pronounced dihp-LAHD-oh-sihds), the larger family that Apatosaurus dinos belonged to. Members of this group
An early version of what scientists thought Brontosaurus
looked like Illustration by Charles R. Knight
were giant herbivores, or plant-eaters. They lived in North America, Europe, and parts of Africa during the late Jurassic period, which took place between 160 million and 145 million years ago.
"They're a very widespread family, and we wanted to know more about relationships within the family," says Octávio Mateus, one of the study’s authors.
For the study, researchers looked at recently discovered specimens from several species in the diplodocid family, along with some older diplodocid specimens. By examining and comparing bones to show how different family members were related, they uncovered more clues about the origins of the dinosaur formerly known as Brontosaurus.
SET IN BONE
Researchers found that what was once Brontosaurus had much less in common with Apatosaurus than previously thought. In fact, some scientists think this evidence means Brontosaurus should reclaim its original name. It looks like Brontosaurus may deserve its own place in the history books after all.
Text from "Brontosaurus Stomps Back to Claim Its Status as Real Dinosaur" by Ralph Martins for National Geographic News
Adapted by Rose Davidson, NGS Staff