Friday 1st July 2011by Jennifer 8. Lee
I want to start a campaign to restore the Wikipedia page for “brontosaurus,” which right now is a hard redirect to “apatosaurus” Check for yourself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brontosaurus.
That page is even the top search for “brontosaurus” on Google!
Depending on how you interpret the facts, the brontosaurus (“thunder lizard”) never really existed or it was a duplicated name created for the already known apatosaurus (“deceptive lizard”). A lot of the confusion has to do with “missing” skull from an apatosaurus fossil discovery, and the subsequent attempts to give the fossil skeleton a head (variously skulls from Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus and Diplodocus). Missing skulls for sauropods (the longnecked dinos) were common because while the large thick body bones were preseved in the fossil record, the more delicate skull bones were not.
As Stephen J. Gould explains in his 1991 book Bully for Brontosaurus, the split was the result of a great paleontogy rivalry between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh, which resulted in rushed and sloppy scientific work in the rush to publish. By 1903, paleontologist Elmer Riggs recognized that Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were the same, with the smaller apatosaurus being the juvenile equivalent of the brontosaurus. But even so, brontosaurus was accepted enough that it even resulted in early twentieth Science magazine published papers about the “brontosaurus,” including its weight, its vertebrae.In 1979, the apatosaurus head was officially discovered. The brontosaurus nomenclature was officially discarded.
The Wikipedia page for brontosaurus was merged into apatosaurus in 2008, according to the merger proposal (where there was no opposition). However, there is now significant opposition now registered on the apatosaurus discussion page.
I would argue that you can’t sweep the brontosaurus Wikipedia entry into the apatosaurus Wikipedia entry, even if now they are somewhat considered synonyms for the same biological entity. There are a few reasons:
- “Brontosaurus” as a term has had a distinct cultural identy for decades (for example, “brontoburgers” on Flintstones) that is independent of its actual paleontologic identity. People have a sentimental affection for the brontosaurus, even if it was an apatosaurus. The U.S. Postal Service issued a brontosaurus postage stamp in 1989, pushing back on paleontogic objections by saying that despite the taxonomic identicalness with the apatosaurus, the brontosaurus was still the sentimental favorite.Â Arguably the sauropods resurgence of late within paleontology, is perhaps owned to this perhaps owed to popular culture.
- The image of the brontosaurus with a rounded nose (see below), as first illustrated by Charles Marsh in his book Dinosaurs of North America, Volume 16, in 1876, is distinct from the more sharp snout of the apatosaurus.
The old skull of the brontosaurus at Yale’s Peabody Museum.
Apatosaurus skull below, much snoutier, different.
- The backstory of the brontosaurus’s myth and public confusion is actually historically relevant and interesting part of the brontosaurus existence, an in and of itself would deserve a Wikipedia page. Below is an xkcd comic about the myth.
Btw, there are other bronto/apatosaurus myths, as paleontologists have posited that sauropods may be ground feeders, with their necks out along the ground rather than upright in the air.