Charles R Knight

Brontosaurus is back: Scientists reclassify dinosaur as separate genus

After exhaustive analysis, paleontologists say Brontosaurus can be reinstated as a unique dinosaur

Paleontologists are restoring the good name of the Brontosaurus more than a century after deeming it scientifically invalid and stripping the dinosaur of its own genus.

The long-extinct beast saw its name go the same way in 1903 after being deemed too similar to another genus, Apatosaurus. Because Apatosaurus, or “deceptive lizard,” was classified first, the smaller Brontosaurus, or “thunder lizard,” was retired as a genus.

But an exhaustive analysis of Brontosaurus remains, unearthed in the 1870s, against those of closely related dinosaurs has determined that the immense, long-necked plant eater was a dinosaur in its own right and, as such, should be reinstated as a genus. 

The results of the study were unveiled Tuesday in the scientific journal PeerJ.

Emanuel Tschopp of Portugal’s Universidade Nova de Lisboa, a paleontologist and the lead author of the study, cited important anatomical differences. Apatosaurus, for example, possessed a wider neck than Brontosaurus and had an even larger build.

“The differences between Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus are numerous enough to revive Brontosaurus as a separate genus from Apatosaurus,” he said.

Brontosaurus, which lived on the landmass that developed into what is now North America about 150 million years ago, in the Jurassic Period, was about 72 feet long and weighed about 40 tons.

The fossilized remains of two huge long-necked dinosaurs were discovered by prolific 19th century paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, who named the first one Apatosaurus in 1877 and the second one Brontosaurus in 1879.

But in 1903, paleontologist Elmer Riggs declared that Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were too similar to be considered separate genera. Despite the reclassification, the Brontosaurus name remained popular.

“I remember finding out that Brontosaurus was actually called Apatosaurus as a child,” said University of Oxford paleontologist Roger Benson, a collaborator on the study. “It didn’t seem right, and I think a lot of people will secretly be pleased that Bronto is back again.”

Octávio Mateus, a co-author of the study, also of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa said, “Even 112 years after paleontologists considered it invalid, the name Brontosaurus still echoes in the popular culture. It was indeed a very cool dinosaur name.”

“This will be like recovering Pluto as a planet again,” he added, referring to astronomers’ 2006 decision to downgrade Pluto from a full-fledged planet to a dwarf planet.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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