If I say “brontosaurus,” I bet a very specific image of a long-necked, long-tailed sauropod comes to mind. It was one of the few dinosaurs we heard about when we were kids – at least in my day – along with the tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, pterodactyl, and stegosaurus. But the Brontosaurus, as we knew it, was in fact the Apatosaurus. Or… was it?
American scientist will kick off with an explanation:
The first of Brontosaurus The genus was named in 1879 by the famous paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. The specimen is still on display in the Great Hall of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale. In 1903, however, paleontologist Elmer Riggs discovered that Brontosaurus was apparently the same as the gender Apatosaurus, which Marsh first described in 1877. In such cases, the rules of scientific nomenclature state that the older name takes precedence, condemning Brontosaurus to another extinction.
So, if we scientists have known this since 1903, why did I – a child of the ’80s and’ 90s – grow up learning of the existence of a dinosaur that apparently never existed? Well it looks like the museums were Great slow to adapt to change, and some categorically disagreed that it should be changed at all. His image and name have survived in pop culture, being prominently featured in Disney’s Fancy in 1940 and in The land before time in 1988.
Before we knew it, we were adults and our young children were learning the apatosaurus, and we said to ourselves, “No, no, it’s a brontosaurus, stupid! ”Fortunately, in 2015, another paleontologist decided there were in fact enough differences between the two groups of fossils to classify them as separate species. So the brontosaurus did to exist. Perhaps.