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Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

Posted March 18, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

Dinosaurs are extinct, so even fans of Jurassic Park don't expect to find them anywhere. Still, it may come as a surprise that one of the most commonly-recognized creatures (at least from children's books and toys), never existed at all. Or, at the very least, the Brontosaurus was just too similar to a relative to be distinguishable.

The Brontosaurus was created as an accidental "hybrid" when paleontologist Othniel Marsh mistakenly combined the head and body of two different species. Although this error has been acknowledged by science and corrected in textbooks, the mythical dinosaur is remembered by many of us (including me, until today) as the Brontosaurus.

The Brontosaurus is still labeled as such in some museums. The herbivorous creature that wasn't also appears on merchandise, including some U.S. Postal Service stamps issued in 1989. Today, some paleontologists use the term "Brontosaurus" (albeit debatably) to cover the broad group of sauropod dinosaurs.

So Who IS the Brontosaurus?

To set the record straight, the bulkily familiar body of the Brontosaurus actually belongs to the Apatosaurus, a dinosaur whose name means "deceptive lizard". The Apatosaurus got its name because its bones are so similar to (and therefore easy to confuse with) other dinosaurs. Just about everything else we know is correct - as far as we know. The herbivore weighed in at about 24.6 tons and was over 70 feet long with an 82-bone tail that could whip predators away.

Apatosaurus skeletons were mounted originally so that their tails dragged. This would have made it difficult for the creatures to walk, however. After more research and thought, scientists realized that they had it wrong. Yet there was no proof – no evidence of tail marks in the ground where they had walked and no wear on the skeletons from being dragged.

Don't forget the mystery about the Apatosaurus's head. The original skeleton was mounted in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in 1936 with the correct body, but with the head of a Camarasaurus.

The Apatosaurus skeleton finally received the correct head in 1979.

Tools They Used

Why did the Apatosaurus get the wrong head in the first place, causing such confusion and resulting in what seems like a permanent misnomer? The skeleton that was found in Colorado did not have a head; the Camarasaurus head was from a nearby skeleton. Based on size reference and how the ball-and-socket fit into the Apatosaurus skeleton, scientists were able to determine it was incorrect.

Fossils were studied to determine that the Apatosaurus carried and swung its tail rather than dragging it along behind. Thousands of footprints and hundreds of tracks showed that there was little evidence left behind from heavy tails. Research led the skeleton at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to be realigned in 2006.

Resources:

http://dsc.discovery.com/dinosaurs/apatosaurus.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brontosaurus

http://www.unmuseum.org/dinobront.htm

http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/fossilhalls/vertebrate/specimens/apatosaurus.php

http://www.carnegiemnh.org/dinosaurs/apatosaurus.htm

http://www.jameslogancourier.org/index.php?itemid=621

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#1

Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

03/18/2009 9:30 AM

I remember believing in Brontosaurus' a long time ago when I watched 'Littlefoot' play with all of his other dinosaur friends in: The Land Before Time. It doesn't surprise me that we remember these creatures by this name. Besides, I only remember the Apatosaurus' being referred to as 'longnecks', and at the time, they were known as Brontosaurus'.

Very good read. Brings back fond memories.

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#2

Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

03/19/2009 7:06 AM

As a Kid I had a Stuffed dinosaur. I believe it was a give away from a Gas station that had one on its Logo. I always thought of it as a Brontosaurus now your telling me it was an Apatosaurus. Oh well it kept me safe from the monsters under the bed at night and kept me company all the time, so I guess it doesn't really make a difference if I thought it was a Bronto instead of an Apato.

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#3
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Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

03/19/2009 7:16 AM

That company was probably Sinclair - the company "incorrectly" used the brontosaurus in its logo for many years. Documentation now refers to it as both types. http://www.sinclairoil.com/

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#4

Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

03/19/2009 9:53 AM

There's still a few of these running wild in Bremerton, WA. You can see some down by the Ferry Terminal in a little watering hole called 1st Street Landing.

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#5

Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

03/19/2009 9:23 PM

Actually, not all dinosaurs went extinct- when the climate changed 65 million years ago, the smart ones got a whole lot smaller and learned to fly. In fact, there may be more dinosaur descendants in the world today than humans, but I would have to do a little more research to verify that. We call them birds.

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Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

03/20/2009 7:10 AM

Yes, I have heard that's true. I wrote about Henry the tuatara who is also a cousin of the dinosaurs.

When I wrote that dinosaurs are extinct, I meant that you don't see any tyranosaurs or anything like that walking through your backyard. (Unless you happen to be on the set of Jurassic Park.)

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#7

Re: Where Did the Brontosaurus Go?

04/28/2010 1:06 PM

It is an easy and common mistake to make. There are in fact strange creatures with Apatosaur heads, and HUMAN bodies and are also carnivourous. Be Watchful, lest they get too close and decide you look tasty!

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