Dont Lose Your Head: Brontosaurus is Once Again Reclassified
Inner children rejoice; In a recent taxonomic development, the once obsolete term Brontosaurus, has been reinstated to describe a separate genus of extinct reptiles that were once believed to be a species of Apatosaurus, is in fact it’s own separate genus, a correction that overwrites a consensus that has held since 1903.
It’s likely that you’ve been corrected by someone that the Brontosaurus you were referring to was in fact an Apatosaurus, with great condescension. Such people would often go further to insist that Brontosaurus did not exist as a species. This itself is also a misconception. The term Brontosaurus was never obsolete, but used to describe a different species within the same genus of Apatosaurus. The new development states that Apatosaurus excelsus exists within its own unique Brontosaurus genus.
The confusion surrounding Brontosaurus began at its discovery in the 1870’s. Two partial skeletons of the animal were discovered but both were lacking a skull. A skull was reconstructed based off of another dinosaur, Camarasaurus, and classified the animal Brontosaurus excelsus. The skull reconstruction turned out to be wrong, and a different skeleton was found that appeared to be an intermediate between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus. The scientists were so inscure over the botched-skull incident that they immediately reclassified Brontosaurus as a species within the Apatosaurus species, since it seemed discouraging that Brontosaurus was speciated enough to be its own genus. This was settled further in the 1970’s when it was discovered that Apatosaurus wasn’t very closely related to Camarasaurus, but instead Diplodocus, with a different, horselike skull unlike the boxy one of Camarasaurus that used to be the base for Brontosaurus. This birthed the myth that Brontosaurus was just an Apatosaurus with the wrong head.
The new research that has been done is both incredibly extensive and uses new technology that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. It covers over 300 pages of evidence which uses statistical analysis of different closely related dinosaurs, and suggested that Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus had at least as many differences between them as could be found between other genera, too much to be considered just a difference between species in the same genus. The difference between “species” and other levels of classification is not well defined, especially among extinct species which can’t be directly observed. As it stands, however, the differences between the two species now more closely fits the differences defined between other similar species.
Posted by Patrick O'Loughlin