I am not that well-informed of the dinosaur world, being able to name only the better-known ones, such as Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, and of course Tyrannosaurus Rex. So I was disappointed that the first name had, for some reason probably related to the way things get named in biology, been replaced by the name Apatosaurus. My three-going-on-four year old grandson is at the age when dinosaurs are of great interest and recently when he showed me a model of what he referred to as a Brontosaurus, I said, dispensing what I thought was superior grandfatherly knowledge, that it should be properly called an Apatosaurus. (My grandson calls me ‘Parta’, a Tamil word for grandfather and was what I used to call my own grandfather. My grandson thinks it is hilarious when I pronounce the name of that dinosaur ‘a parta-saurus’, as if it is named after me. That joke never gets old for him. He is not that far off in thinking of me as a dinosaur, though.)
But he said no, it was a Brontosaurus, and it turns out that he is right. The ups-and-downs of the Brontosaurus are described nicely in this article.
Brontosaurus has a colorful history. Named by O.C. Marsh in the 1880s, the dinosaur was identified in 1903 as a member of the Apatosaurus genus, which Marsh had found a few years earlier.
Since taxonomy honors the name that came first, Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus.
But the evocative name-which means “thunder lizard” in Greek-would live on for decades, until 1970s researchers ended the debate by showing that Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus had very similar skulls.
So the “thunder lizard” was condemned to the realm of the scientifically invalid, becoming the dinosaur that “never even existed.”
These dinosaurs belong to the family of diplodocids, that consisted of “giant herbivores [that] lived in North America, Europe, and parts of Africa during the late Jurassic period, between 160 million and 145 million years ago.”
But as more and more specimens of diplodocids were found and analyzed, researchers found significant differences among them and concluded that Brontosaurus excelsus and Apatosaurus excelsus were not the same and that the family had to be expanded to include two new genera: Brontosaurus and Galeamopus.
So the Brontosaurus is back, baby! Here is what they now think it looks like.
On the other hand, if you are a fan of Dinheirosaurus or Supersaurus, brace yourself for the news that they are both now considered to belong to the same genus and so one name is likely going to eventually disappear.