Sauropods, some of the largest animals to ever roam the earth, were long-necked and long-tailed dinosaurs often portrayed in movies eating from the top of the trees. The Brontosaurus, also known as the “thunder lizard,” is part of the sauropod family, but until recently many thought it didn’t exist.
Othniel Charles Marsh was the paleontologist who named the Brontosaurus genus in 1879 describing it as a separate species of a sauropod. In 1903 another paleontologist, Elmer Riggs, believed that the Brontosaurus was part of the same genus as the Apatosaurus which had been identified in 1877. Since the Apatosaurus study was published first, the name Brontosaurus was removed as a type of dinosaur species.
But that is not the end of the story, a recent study looked at the differences between the Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus fossils. Emanuel Tschopp, a vertebrate paleontologist at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal, concluded that the neck is where differences between the Brontosaurus and the Apatosaurus are most noticeable. The Apatosaurus has a wider, shorter neck compared to the Brontosaurus, suggesting they were from different species.
The main purpose of the study was to analyze the many different features of the 81 sauropod specimens to distinguish among the different dinosaurs in the sauropod family. The scientists concluded that the sauropod family consists of the Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and the Brontosaurus and that there are three species of Brontosaurus.
Recent dinosaur discoveries, as well as advancements in technology, allowed Tschopp and other researchers to evaluate the differences between Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus to reestablish the Brontosaurus as a distinct dinosaur species. Indeed the Brontosaurus is back!
[Sources: Scientific American; Nature; Natural History Museum]